The Patient that Changed My Life Forever

Northwestern Medicine
For Students November 08, 2012
Dr. John Pandolfino, was just a young Northwestern GI fellow when he started treating a patient named Mario "Motts" Tonelli, a former athlete and World War II veteran. During the three years Pandolfino cared for Tonelli, his patient shared personal stories of trials and tribulations, which left a lasting impression on the doctor. Today, Pandolfino is the director of the Esophageal Center at Northwestern Medicine, but he has never forgotten Motts. Below he reflects on how just one patient changed his life forever.

Although Veterans Day is considered a holiday, it is not associated with parties or celebration.  It is a day to remember the sacrifice that our fellow citizens have made in the past and also a day where we can give thanks to the brave soldiers who are fighting today.  Although I never served in the military, this day has a special meaning for me as it marks an important day for one of my patients who had a tremendous impact on my life.

 I met Mario “Motts” Tonelli when I was a trainee at lakeside VA hospital. I had the privilege of caring for him through my fellowship and into my career as a junior attending.  I was with him the night he passed away and was witness to a life that was filled with courage and dignity until the end.  Mario had many set-backs and sacrifices throughout his long 86 years on this planet, but he always made a comeback and that is the lesson he taught me.

I still think about Motts every day and each year on Veterans Day I celebrate his legacy by having a celebration or some type of event.  Last year, we were able to name our Northwestern Esophageal Function Lab after him.  This year, we will be having a benefit called KO for Kids! to support the Motts 58 Foundation for kids to help combat violence in Chicago.  I will even be stepping into the ring to box a match! It is a small event, but certainly something Mario would be proud of and something worth celebrating.

Check back next week to see photos and video of Dr. Pandolfino knocking one out for charity to honor his patient!