Pascal Spino knew at a young age what serious illness could do to children. His sister Pascquelina died from the complications of influenza, and he contracted tuberculosis and missed a year of school. The sickness left him with heart problems and a determination to become a pediatrician.
So when recruiters from Harvard University came to his high school in Greensburg, Pa., he answered questions in a way that he thought would point him to medical school.
“Pascal, you’re better suited to be a priest,” a recruiter told him. But he pursued his dream anyway, eventually practicing medicine in his hometown for more than 60 years.
Dedicated to healing
Dr. Spino, 88, was recently honored for a lifetime of dedication to his patients and their families when a bust of his likeness was placed at the entrance of Pediatric Associates of Westmoreland, which took over his practice four years ago, and where he worked until 2008.
“You can continue watching over your children as they come for visits,” Dr. Thaer Almalouf, the practice’s CEO, said at the dedication. “You will be the first face they see. They will always remain your children.”
Dr. Spino never turned anyone away, and when parents brought in two or more children at a time, he charged for just one. He opened his office in the evenings, on weekends and in the middle of the night, or he made house calls.
Aida Spino learned early on about her husband’s dedication.
“We had just gotten married and I had been here for just a week, and he went downstairs in a robe and didn’t come back,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “I got worried and went into town to his office, and the door was open. Someone was very sick, and he didn’t have time to get dressed. He just jumped into the car and went. Those were the years when you could practice medicine with your heart.”
The Spinos met when she was teaching in Nicaragua. He was a volunteer with the hospital ship S.S. Hope, and she helped him to get a program started there. He later returned to Nicaragua to marry her, then brought her to Greensburg, raising four children (one is deceased).
Advocating for children
Dr. Spino became an advocate for abused children and was very outspoken when a patient was murdered by a parent who gained custody when her case was mishandled by the children’s bureau.
Dr. Spino’s health is now failing. His wife is his constant companion and keeps him active with walks, outings and attending Mass at St. Bartholomew Parish in Crabtree, a village north of Greensburg.
“When I was at another parish, I often heard people talk about Dr. Spino, but I did not know him,” said his pastor, Benedictine Father Leon Hont. “From hearing them, I knew that he was very gentle, very kind to the children. Now that I know him as a parishioner, I see his faithfulness to the Church and his faithfulness to the holy Eucharist.”
“Dr. Spino has one of the noblest features of the medical profession — the dedication, compassion and meeting patients where they are, literally,” said Dr. Ralph Capone, president of the St. Luke Society of the Diocese of Greensburg, an organization for Catholic health care workers. “You don’t do that kind of service for money. You do this because you have a deep love of community. He has that love from a Christian perspective, the idea of agape, the kind of love that says, ‘I want to be of service to you because you have dignity and are made in the image of God and the likeness of God.’”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
Honors for Dr. Spino (sidebar)
◗ 1989 Pediatrician of the Year, Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians
◗ 1990 Gold Medal awardee, WTAE-TV Pittsburgh
◗ Health Hero, 2001 Distinguished Humanitarian Award, Westmoreland County Community College
◗ 1996 Lifetime Achievement finalist, Pittsburgh Business Times
◗ 2008 entry in the Congressional Record to honor 59 years of service