She dropped out of Temple without completing her requirements for pre-med at Hahnemann, so she had to take one more organic chemistry course. Organic chemistry was only offered during the summer at Villanova, which at the time accepted only male students. Officials asked her to leave after a week of classes, but she enrolled anyway. Her professor promised to give her extra credit if she passed the exam and offered to give her private lessons. In the fall of 1941, she received her diploma and enrolled in medical school.
In 1945, she graduated from Hahnemann’s second class of female students, one of only three women in the graduating class. When Dr. Louis J. Salerno had just returned from his service as a major in the Army, a friend of his set her up on a blind date with him. In 1948, at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, they were united in marriage.
She chose to go by her maiden name, which was unusual for a woman of her generation. To avoid confusion, she and her husband were both professors at New York Medical College, where she taught paediatrics and he taught OB/GYN.
She is survived by her four other sons, Robert, Justin, and Mark Salerno, as well as her five grandchildren and her two great-grandchildren. After her husband’s death in 1988,
After serving as director of the Mental Retardation Institute from 1950 to 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Dr. Giannini to head up the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (now the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research).
While serving as a member of President Carter’s Cabinet, she worked to improve the lives of military veterans with physical disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and blindness/deafness.
President George W. Bush appointed her as the principal deputy assistant secretary for ageing at the Department of Health and Human Services in his second term as president. She met Tommy Thompson, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and he appointed her director of the department’s Office of Disability in 2002.