It started to rain on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 4 in Zimmerman at the home of retired Minnesota Army National Guard Master Sgt. Launette Figliuzzi. Figliuzzi was being discharged from the Minneapolis VA Medical Center after suffering a spinal stroke on Friday, May 29. She was expecting a normal ride home to Zimmerman. What happened when she arrived was extraordinary.
Figliuzzi and her husband Tom arrived home to a hero’s parade complete with a motorcycle brigade and patriotic American decorations on cars and trucks. When they approached their driveway, the clouds parted and the sun shone radiantly as family members cheered. Master Sgt. Figliuzzi was in tears of joy and disbelief.
Master Sgt. Figliuzzi’s daughter Marlene Figliuzzi said that when it stopped raining and the sun came out, it was a symbol from God.
“It’s amazing,” Marlene Figliuzzi said. “It was God’s way of telling us she’s home. It was a symbolic moment.”
Around 11 p.m. on Friday, May 29, Master Sgt. Figliuzzi was hungry and went to go buy a snack. Suddenly, she suffered a spinal stroke. She arrived in an ambulance at the M Health Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton at approxiately 2 a.m. on Saturday, May 30.
The M Health Fairview Northland Medical Center did not have the necessary equipment to treat Master Sgt. Figliuzzi, and she needed to be airlifted to a hospital in Minneapolis that could treat her. She could not be airlifted to Minneapolis because Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz suspended all helicopter flights to Minneapolis as the city rioted in response to the Tuesday, May 26 death of unarmed black man George Floyd. She arrived at Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina at 9 a.m. Master Sgt. Figliuzzi became paralyzed from the chest down. The family has raised more than $15,000 for Master Sgt. Figliuzzi through a GoFundMe page with a goal of $35,000 in donations.
Marlene Figliuzzi said that she was horrified when she learned that her mother was in a medical emergency.
“There was nothing we [could] do,” she said. “We [had] no control. Everything was grounded. The alternate thought was, ‘Let’s figure out a way to get her down there [to Minneapolis] with the highways.’ You can’t because the highways are shut down, too. Immediate, it was, ‘What do we do and how do we do it as best as we can.’ That’s what we did as a family. We didn’t get there in time and we didn’t succeed in our mission to treat her the best as possible.”
Master Sgt. Figliuzzi served for 22 years in the Minnesota Army National Guard from June 12, 1979 until she retired on February 28, 2001. After her retirement, she became a veterans services officer and served in that post for 15 years advocating for the needs of thousands of veterans.
Marlene Figliuzzi said her mother has been a ray of sunshine to veterans and the Zimmerman community. One of her hobbies is decorating and she has been an ardent Minnesota Vikings fan since the Purple People Eaters era of the 1970s.
“She’s one that when she gets somebody that needs help, she’s not going to stop until she gets their help,” Marlene Figliuzzi said. “She coordinated with different community education programs. She takes Zumba classes and loves being part of her community. She shops at the antique shops. She likes to go to the local bowling alley for dining. She brings the whole family in for fantasy football dinners. She loves her little community here.”
Marlene Figliuzzi said Sept. 4, 2020 will be the start of a new chapter in her family’s life.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she said. “She’s holding her grandson that was just born for the first time. We get to see her for the first time in months. This day, if we were to name it, we would call it ‘Our New Chapter.’ I’m hoping it’s the chapter that we see not only get to see our mom and their grandma more and my dad gets to be with his wife in person and no longer through glass but we also see that support we were hoping for. This could be our new chapter and it could be the bright spot and the silver lining that happens after all these things are done.”