Huntington's Disease Society of America
Lisa Annette Eletto was a loving mother, wife, teacher, friend, and role model. She was a devout Christian who maintained her faith through both good times and bad. She will be forever remembered for her selflessness, devotion to helping others, and love for her family.
Lisa was born in Los Angeles, California to Frank and Mildred Tunglen on September 20, 1951. Lisa’s sister and only sibling, Miriam, was born eight years after Lisa on October 15, 1959. Lisa and Miriam remained extremely close throughout their lives. Frank was an active member of the 4H club, and the Tunglens raised various livestock before sending it to families in other countries who used the animals’ byproducts, rather than killing them, to sustain themselves. The Tunglens also took a yearly trip to various third-world countries through “Habitat for Humanity” programs. After being influenced at an early age by her father’s penchant for charity, Lisa formed a selfless disposition and compassion for others throughout the rest of her life.
Lisa attended UCLA from 1969-1973, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Education. She taught junior and senior high school for several years before enrolling at Cal State Northridge in 1974 to obtain a Master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance. Lisa was always oriented toward careers that involved helping others.
While attending Cal State Northridge, Lisa met the love of her life, Bruce Eletto, who was in the same Master’s program. Bruce and Lisa began dating in February of 1976 and got married in late December of that same year. Lisa loved to laugh, and Bruce was a willing and capable comedian. They had a bond and connection that is impossible to ignore—just look at any picture of them together and you will see them beaming from ear to ear.
Lisa decided not to have children for their first decade or so of marriage out of a fear that she would develop Huntington’s disease and pass it on to a future generation. It was more important to Lisa to spare her future child the heartbreak of dealing with Huntington’s than fulfilling any maternal longings of her own. Yet again, Lisa prioritized others over herself.
Sadly, on September 21, 1987—the day after Lisa’s 36th birthday—Lisa’s mother, Mildred, died at the age of 61 of Huntington’s disease complications. Miriam vowed not to let herself experience the same fate as her mother. Lisa, on the other hand, promised Bruce that she would not take her own life—and she kept that promise.
Finally, as almost any woman would, Lisa gave in to her maternal desire of having children, wanting to experience the joy of motherhood and being optimistic that a cure for Huntington’s would be developed. On July 25, 1988, less than a year after Lisa’s mother’s death, Lisa gave birth to her only child, Ryan.
Later that year, Lisa tested positive for HD. Despite that dire prognosis, Lisa kept her spirits high and tried to make the most of every minute of her healthy years, spending as much time with family and loved ones as possible.
Tragically, Miriam, received an HD-positive diagnosis when she was in her early thirties. On June 6, 1994, Miriam tragically took her own life at the tender age of 35 after having begun to experience early symptoms of Huntington’s disease.
Lisa experienced another emotional blow a few years later, when her father, Frank, passed away of old age. Lisa remained extremely close with Frank’s second wife, Elising Roxas, and Elising’s family after Frank’s death despite the fact that she was not related to them by blood. That didn’t matter to Lisa. She loved all her family the same.
In 1999, when Ryan was in the fifth grade, Bruce and Lisa revealed Lisa’s HD diagnosis to him. Lisa had become symptomatic, and it had become difficult for Bruce and Lisa to explain why mom was acting so strange without telling Ryan the truth. They also wanted to brace him for the ugly progression of the disease that would steal his mother away and never give her back.
In 2002, Lisa began losing her balance more frequently and experiencing hallucinations, and had trouble using the bathroom and performing other routine daily tasks on her own. Since Lisa needed full-time professional care, she moved out of the house and into a nearby nursing home. The women there treated Lisa with the utmost dignity and respect. Bruce and Ryan visited Lisa every Sunday and every holiday, including her birthday. She loved seeing their faces and hearing Bruce’s jokes that still made her laugh despite her illness and circumstances.
Lisa resided in nursing homes for the next eleven years, up to her death at age 61 on June 29, 2013. The staff at both complexes loved and cared for Lisa dearly. Without complaint, they changed her diapers, replaced her feeding tube, brushed her hair and teeth, took her for a walk, and made her comfortable and presentable at all times. For that, Bruce and Ryan are eternally, unspeakably grateful. Their professionalism and heroism is remarkable. Bruce and Ryan consider Lisa’s caretakers to be a part of their family now, and will be forever indebted to them.
Lisa died peacefully and comfortably with Bruce at her bedside, holding her hand the entire time to let her know she was not alone. Though Ryan was en route from North Carolina to California when Lisa passed, he was able to say his last goodbyes when Bruce placed his cell phone against Lisa’s ear. Both Bruce and Ryan were incredibly saddened by Lisa’s death, but they are glad she no longer has to suffer. They find solace in celebrating her life and the forty-five healthy years she had on this earth. She had a profound impact on so many people—students, relatives, and friends. She was a unique, wonderful, incredibly kind human being who left an indelible mark on this world. Her altruism, selflessness, and love were unparalleled.
In Lisa’s honor, Ryan has vowed to become more involved with the HDSA and to encourage others to do the same. On behalf of your friends or loved ones who have passed away from the disease, are currently struggling with it, or are at-risk of developing it, please donate your time, money, or both to the HDSA so that we can find a cure for this terrible disease once and for all.