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- Anthony N. DeMaria, MD, MACC, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology⁎ ()
- ↵⁎Address correspondence to:
Dr. Anthony N. DeMaria, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 3655 Nobel Drive, Suite 630, San Diego, California 92112
A recent trip to my old home town, Bayonne, caused me to reflect back on some aspects of my nonprofessional life. Like most physicians, my focus tends to be primarily on the future—scientific advances, career growth, and new projects. Experiences in the town of my birth directed my thoughts to the past, specifically to the people and circumstances that influenced my life. Since this Editor's Page is being published during the holiday season, I thought that these reflections might be an appropriate topic.
Bayonne is a city of about 60,000 packed into about 3 square miles of New Jersey across from Manhattan. Like so many communities in the New York area, it is populated largely by first- and second-generation immigrants. My father operated a fruit and vegetable market there in conjunction with his brothers. They specialized in selling seasonal items like wine grapes, Christmas trees, and Easter flowers, which provided an education in its own right. I spent a fair number of hours working in the store, and the lessons I learned from that experience continue to represent one of the most important parts of my education.
I travelled home to Bayonne recently to visit family and to attend an affair at my old high school. Several days before the affair, my uncle Carmen died. The youngest and last surviving of 4 brothers, he had lived next door and helped manage the store. We were often together at family events, but even more importantly, we spent many hours together in the store. We talked about business, people, politics, and life in general. He was consistently positive, optimistic, and ever-so hard working. He loved the life he had and his work, but he constantly urged me to study hard and have a better life. When I graduated from medical school, he was so excited and proud, it was as if the whole family had graduated. He taught me a lot by both his words and his actions. His funeral, while sad, reflected the joy of the man and the wonderful life he had led.
My father always seemed to me to be bigger than life. He started and ran his own business, contracted our house, and seemed to know everybody. The neighborhood came to the store not only for food, but for advice on politics, finances, and multiple other aspects of daily life. He was a gifted public speaker who served as toastmaster for many local events. My father was universally respected; it was clear that there were expectations if you were Tony DeMaria's son. I carefully followed his actions and listened to his words; my goal was to be as identical to him as possible. He wanted to be a doctor, but the family situation did not make that possible. Who knows what he would have achieved if he had half of the advantages he provided to me.
The high school I attended was new (I was in the third graduating class) and was struggling to succeed. My father quickly helped to form a Men's Club which raised money for the school. He served as president of the club, and was instrumental in obtaining a highly sought after site for the school's campus. So, when the school contacted me regarding my selection to the Hall of Fame, I immediately thought of my father. Clearly, as I told the crowd that night at the awards dinner, if anyone deserved this distinction, it should have been him.
The time spent in Bayonne for the above events engendered both emotion and reflection. The entire family was gathered together. We relived childhood events, both good and bad. As I looked at my mother and immediate as well as extended family, I again recognized how important they had been to whatever I had achieved. Bayonne was about as far from La Jolla as could be, geographically and in other ways. But the experiences it provided me, and the lessons learned growing up in Bayonne, were invaluable and difficult to reproduce. Those experiences and interactions had forged the core of the person. I often wished my own children could have had the same “education.”
The point of this essay is that, in our busy lives as physicians, we often forget to look back at our past. We frequently take family for granted, and lose sight of the role they have played in our development. It is likely that neither our family nor many of our childhood friends would be very conversant with the issues that we deal with today. Fortunately, however, the experiences and relationships we shared with them in our youth are firmly incorporated into our character, and continue to influence our behavior. Nevertheless, it is good to occasionally reflect back on those persons and events that have had such a formative influence on our lives. Like a good review course, it is important to periodically refresh our memories about fundamental and important facts and principles.
So, what better time is there than the holidays to reflect upon the past and its contribution to the present? For those fortunate enough to have family, it is a great time to reminisce. A trip to the old neighborhood or even a review of photographs can restore important memories. As physicians, people look to us as mature, knowledgeable, and usually wise individuals. But we were not born physicians. Numerous factors have influenced our development, and many of the most important factors occurred prior to medical school and originated from family and friends. My recent trip back home has convinced me that, far from regarding the past as being over and done, we should frequently revisit it as a source of some of our greatest strengths.
- American College of Cardiology Foundation