Anthony Vincent Digiannurio mailed an engagement ring to his future wife while in Germany after World War II, not knowing whether she would accept his marriage proposal, his daughter Laura Digiannurio said.
“My father was a character,” Laura chuckled as she talked Friday about the man at the center of a nursing home neglect investigation unfolding in DeLand.
And he deserved to be treated with more dignity than what he received at University Center West nursing home in DeLand, she said.
At 3 a.m. on Nov. 7, the 82-year-old World War II veteran was taken to Florida Hospital DeLand by ambulance from the University Center West nursing home at 545 W. Euclid Ave., a DeLand police report states. Anthony Digiannurio was admitted for respiratory problems but the hospital staff discovered the elderly man had maggots in one of his eyes, an infected breathing tube, a partially inserted catheter and bed sores on his left elbow.
The elder abuse case has been taken over from the DeLand Police Department by the state Attorney General’s Office, DeLand police Deputy Chief Randel Henderson said Friday.
“It is officially transferred to the Attorney General’s Office, which has an investigator here, so that office ultimately has jurisdiction over the case,” Henderson said. “If any charges are to be filed, they will be coming from the state Attorney General’s Office.”
Laura Digiannurio, 52, said her father’s vital signs are improving and his breathing tube has been removed, but he is still unable to talk. On Friday afternoon, the elderly man opened his eyes for the first time since he was hospitalized, she said.
“He has gone through a lot,” she said. “He had a fever and bedsores when he got to the hospital, and they found over nine maggots in his eye.”
Police said Anthony Digiannurio was getting hospice care. Laura Digiannurio said her father has lung problems and can’t use his legs. He was placed at University Center West by hospice officials, she said, after being told it was a good facility.
“I put all my confidence in (the nursing home), and then this happens?” Laura Digiannurio said.
At the nursing home, the elder Digiannurio fell and injured his head in May after a nurse left him to attend to another patient, the daughter said.
“Their service is very poor,” Laura Digiannurio said. “One day I was there and they brought him a cold, small crusted sandwich for dinner. It was disgusting.”
Asked Friday for comments about the daughter’s claims, Jo-Ann Grasso, administrator of the facility, said her previous statements about the case were all she would say. On Nov. 8, Grasso called the claims about Digiannurio’s Nov. 7 condition “sensational.” The nursing home was cooperating with authorities and conducting an internal investigation, she said.
Sitting at her house Friday, Laura Digiannurio laid out her father’s Purple Heart certificate and his honorable discharge papers, recalling stories her dad used to tell her.
“He used to talk about how he used to shoot it out with the Germans,” he said. “He came (home) with frostbite scars on his feet, and he still had problems with his feet.”
Her father, born in Pittsburgh, retired as a New York City architect and moved to Florida on his 40th wedding anniversary in 1987, his daughter said. He surprised her mother, who now is in a separate nursing home, with a new furnished home in Deltona, she said.
In July 1988, Anthony Digiannurio was awarded the Purple Heart for being in the European Theatre of Operation on Sept. 8, 1945. He was honorably discharged from the Army in April 1946.
The World War II veteran is also an author, a poet and a painter. He wrote nine books, Laura Digiannurio said, and one of his books, published in 2001, is listed on a Web site selling rare books. It’s about the son of an immigrant raising his family in traditional ways with his two sons following his example when his daughter defies him by marrying an alcoholic outside their race.
In his living room at the Deltona home sits a trophy he was awarded in 2004 for his poetry.
“He kept himself busy,” Laura Digiannurio said, adding when she last spoke with her father Nov. 4, he was talking about his paintings.
When he recovers, the daughter hopes to place her father in a nursing home for veterans in Gainesville, she said.