(Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/2006)
The fall that altered the last five years of Angie Scardino's life occurred in the seemingly safest of places, a corridor leading to her doctor's examining room.
"I did not have a dizzy spell," she told a geriatrician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston a few days after she tumbled to the floor in August 2005 and broke her hip. "I did not feel light-headed. I just caught my toe and went over. I feel like such a klutz."
Self-consciousness about being a bother is the least of the ills facing elderly patients who suffer a hip fracture. Nearly one in three die within a year, according to University of Maryland School of Medicine research the Globe commissioned.
Defying the odds after her injury, and setting aside her preference for privacy, Mrs. Scardino allowed a Globe reporter and photographer to chronicle in an award-winning series her months of treatment and recovery, and her struggle to regain independence.
Mrs. Scardino, who most recently lived with her daughter in Franklin, but always thought of the house she and her late husband bought in Scotia, N.Y., as her home, died in Beth Israel Friday of congestive heart failure. She was 86.
Allowing herself to become the public face of an injury that claims the lives of so many older patients was, in many ways, uncharacteristic of Mrs. Scardino, who was so private she usually avoided trading stories with friends about the ailments of age.
"I don't want this to make her sound like a saint, but when she heard it could help the next person going through this, there wasn't a question," her daughter, Joanne Hogan of Franklin, said of Mrs. Scardino's decision to participate in the Globe series, which was written by Alice Dembner.
"She didn't do this for herself," her daughter said. "She was happy to answer any and all questions because she wanted to help other people. She didn't do it to be in the Globe."
What appeared in the Globe were details that would have made the most open person squeamish: descriptions of the compression booties Mrs. Scardino wore in the hospital to prevent blood clots, specifics of the surgery to repair the hip fracture, and even the fact that she took Tylenol with codeine.
"In all my years, I never took an aspirin," she told the Globe. "Now, Iím making up for it."
Her life's story was just as thoroughly examined. Mrs. Scardino was 42 when husband died of a heart attack, leaving her to raise three young children and to look for a job, with a general equivalency diploma as her only academic credential.
The experience was not unfamiliar. Mrs. Scardino was 11 when her father died, leaving her Italian immigrant mother to raise several children. Unlike her mother, Mrs. Scardino chose not to remarry, explaining simply, "I had a stepfather."
Angeline Insero was born in Schenectady, N.Y., and left high school to work in a General Electric plant during World War II. While working for GE, she met Joseph Scardino, and they married in 1951, moving a few years later to a house in nearby Scotia.
As a young mother, she stayed home to raise her children and work with their school's PTA until the night her husband had a heart attack. Their eldest son was unable to revive him with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, a moment that still brought tears to her eyes some 40 years later.
"She was 42 when my dad died," her daughter said. "In her generation, it was very uncommon for a woman to take charge at that point, forge ahead, go back to school, go back to work."
For Mrs. Scardino, priorities dictated a clear choice.
"This is a lady who made her kids, the three of us, up to the moment she passed away, the total focus of her life," said her son Jeff of Niskayuna, N.Y. "There was nothing more important than the three of us and our families, unconditionally. She made herself accessible and worked as many jobs as she had to work to allow us to dress well, have a good education, and have some of the decent things in life that kids could have."
Beginning with a part-time job at her children's school, Mrs. Scardino entered a job training program and took the New York civil service exam.
"My mother was a very bright, articulate woman," her daughter said. "She was a classy lady."
Mrs. Scardino worked with the New York Insurance Department and retired in 1990 as a records auditor with the state's Department of Social Services.
As a single parent, she worked, attended her children's extra curricular activities and learned a few of them herself.
"She taught me how to play baseball, she taught me how to ride a bicycle," her son said. "She was probably the best writer and proofreader I've ever run into. ... I've yet to find a PhD. who could read and write as well as my mother."
Mrs. Scardino also learned to negotiate good prices for major purchases, such as when she visited a car lot.
"She wasn't afraid of anyone," her son said. "She was 4-foot-10 or 11 and would stand up to the best of them."
That spirit informed her approach to recovering from the hip fracture. At one point, she uneasily contemplated a set of practice stairs at a nursing home, and knew navigating them was a step toward shrugging off the assistance of others.
"If I say I can't, I'll never get home and I'll never do for myself," she said in late 2005, barely a couple of weeks after surgery.
On another day, alone in her daughter's Franklin home, she decided to chance the four steps into the garage in order to walk around aided by nothing other than her cane.
"I can't be a sissy. I can do it. I can do it," she repeated to herself, adding with pleasure after she completed her short journey, "I felt like a big shot."
A funeral Mass was said in Schenectady today for Mrs. Scardino, who in addition to her daughter, Joanne, and son Jeff leaves another son, Joseph of Stoughton, and five grandchildren.
"I considered her a rock of my life," Jeff said. "You never saw her quit. That was one of her personal themes in life: Don't quit. I believe that last Friday, she didn't quit, she just moved on to the next part of what she thought was her place to be."
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more