BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Russell J. Salvatore Foundation donated $1 million to Erie County Medical Center on Tuesday, a heartfelt Valentine's Day present in the form of its biggest single donation ever.

"I happened to break my ankle about five years ago, and I became very close with the people around here, and we became one big happy family," said Salvatore, a restaurateur and philanthropist, who visited with patients after the presentation of a giant check.

"I feel so proud. It's probably one of the happiest days of my life. It just means a lot inside to see that I'm a small part of what this hospital is going to look like," said Salvatore.

"It's just a wonderful influx of money that we just didn't know that we had the opportunity to make several improvements that we've been wanting to do for a long time," said Judy Haynes, RN, an ECMC unit manager.

Those improvements include renovations to different units throughout the building, a better lobby, and a new emergency department. First built in the 1970s, the emergency department was upgraded in the mid-1990s.

"The technology back then isn't what's needed now. Also, the access will be improved for our patients, of the ambulance. It will be bigger, state-of-the-art, provide better services for our trauma rooms," said Judy Dobson, FNP, ECMC Medical Surgical Nursing Services vice president.

The new ED will be located in the back of the main hospital, behind the current Behavioral Health Outpatient Center. A groundbreaking on that project is still a few months off.