After serving the osteopathic medical profession for more than 30 years, Carlo J. DiMarco, DO, the AOA’s 2008-09 president, died suddenly on Saturday at the age of 62. His friends and colleagues say they will miss his guidance, insight and passion.
“Dr. DiMarco was a down-to-earth leader,” says former AOA President Anthony A. Minissale, DO. “He always said, ‘You got it.’ Whatever you asked, he did and he did it well. He’s certainly going to be missed. He leaves a big void at the state level and at the national level, too.”
AOA Trustee William S. Mayo, DO, says he could tell early on that Dr. DiMarco was destined to be a leader. The two met in the ’80s when they were in their early 30s and beginning the board certification process for ophthalmology.
“I remember thinking, ‘This guy has leadership qualities,’ ” says Dr. Mayo, who practices in Oxford, Miss. “I just had this feeling about him. He was personable, he was knowledgeable, and he had a charisma that made you feel confident in him.”
Dr. DiMarco, a Philadelphia native, went on to become president of the Pennsylvania Osteopathic Medical Association. A decade later, he was president of the American Osteopathic Colleges of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. And he led the profession as the AOA’s 112th president.
The oldest of four boys, Dr. DiMarco began honing his leadership skills early in life. His three siblings followed him to the same high school, college and osteopathic medical school. Dr. DiMarco’s youngest brother, Anthony E. DiMarco, DO, recalls a telling memory of his eldest sibling from a Halloween night in their youth.
“Somebody stole my trick-or-treat bag, and I came home crying,” says Dr. Anthony DiMarco, who is now a family physician in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. “At the time, Carlo was 13 or 14. He put on a leather jacket, and he said, ‘Come on, we’re going to go trick-or-treating again.’ He acted as my personal guard this time to make sure nobody would steal my bag again. That story is a metaphor for how he was the rest of our lives. He was always looking out for us and protecting us.”
The son of Italian immigrants, Dr. DiMarco grew up in south Philadelphia. He attended his hometown’s La Salle University and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. DiMarco practiced family medicine for a few years after finishing his osteopathic internship, and then he landed a slot in an ophthalmology residency, where he found his life’s work.
With personal knowledge of the Philadelphia area’s shortage of ophthalmology residency positions, Dr. DiMarco started a new ophthalmology residency program to serve city hospitals a few years later. He subsequently joined the faculty at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he taught ophthalmology for nearly 20 years.
In 2006, Dr. DiMarco relocated to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he became a professor and regional dean of clinical medicine at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. He also started LECOM’s ophthalmology residency program, which he directed.
Dr. DiMarco’s background as a professor and residency director helped him relate well to osteopathic medical students and residents when he served as AOA president, says Dr. Mayo. At 56 when he took office, Dr. DiMarco served as AOA president relatively early in his career.
“Dr. DiMarco really was able to communicate well across multiple age brackets because he was younger,” Dr. Mayo says. “He would listen to people. And he had his finger on the pulse of postgraduate training.”
Dr. Minissale agrees.
“Dr. DiMarco had an easy way about him. He could talk to the students and they could relate to him,” he says. “He didn’t have gray hair. Students saw him as a younger individual. They could talk to him probably more easily than they could talk to any of us, though we all had good relationships with the student groups. But Dr. DiMarco was really active in education.”
Dr. DiMarco made osteopathic graduate medical education a priority during his tenure as AOA president, a decision inspired by the quickly evolving osteopathic medical education landscape.
“One of Dr. DiMarco’s major focuses when he was president was to increase OGME because he recognized that with the growth of our undergraduate colleges, we would need more AOA-approved postgraduate training,” says AOA President-Elect John W. Becher, DO. “During his year, he was instrumental in developing the OGME Development Initiative. And that initiative is still in place today.”
The AOA established the OGME Development Initiative to help hospitals set up new osteopathic training programs and recruited consultants, such as directors of medical education and osteopathic medical school deans, to lead the effort.
“Dr. DiMarco didn’t just encourage AOA-wide OGME growth,” notes Dr. Mayo. “He himself grew residencies. He worked within the osteopathic ophthalmology group to grow more ophthalmology residencies in addition to his own new residencies. He walked the walk. He didn’t just talk the talk.”
Dr. DiMarco was one of the first, if not the first, AOA presidents to concentrate on OGME creation, Dr. Becher says, and his efforts raised awareness of the need for continued development of OGME.
In the four years preceding Dr. DiMarco’s presidency, the profession produced an average of about 400 AOA-approved GME slots per year, according to data from The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. The four years following Dr. DiMarco’s presidency saw average osteopathic GME growth of more than 630 positions each year, a 57% increase.
Mechanic at heart
In addition to education, Dr. DiMarco’s passions included sports and anything mechanical, especially automotive repair. He earned money during medical school by repairing foreign cars, his colleagues note, and he had a bottomless curiosity for how machines and electrical components worked.
“Carlo and I would walk into a room to give a speech to some folks, and he would say, ‘Do you know what kind of air conditioner they use in this hotel? They use a such-and-such, and it’s 12 tons, and it’s very efficient,’ ” says Peter B. Ajluni, DO, the AOA’s 2007-08 president. “He was a lot of fun to be around because of his side interest in mechanical things.”
When he bought his first home, Dr. Anthony DiMarco didn’t bother hiring a home inspector—he simply had his brother examine the house instead. And when he decided to build a home, Dr. DiMarco helped him again.
“The electrician stopped by and he said, ‘How do you want this circuit,’ ” Dr. Anthony DiMarco says. “Carlo said, ‘I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.’ He walked to each room, and he wrote in electrical jargon on each outlet how he wanted the circuits done. The electrician was amazed that he knew that.”
When he wasn’t helping his family and friends wire their homes and fix their cars, Dr. DiMarco was an avid sports fan. He was the team ophthalmologist for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers for more than 20 years until 2006. More recently, he was the team ophthalmologist for the Erie Bayhawks, a minor league NBA team.
‘An all-around good guy’
Dr. DiMarco’s friends and colleagues say he pursued his interests wholeheartedly—including advocating on behalf of his profession. Dr. Anthony DiMarco says he hopes his brother will be remembered as a selfless worker devoted to the betterment of osteopathic medicine.
“Carlo really loved the profession,” he says. “He was totally dedicated to it. His decisions were always based on what was best for the profession. He also loved teaching. He loved passing on his knowledge to others, and he always told them to use that knowledge to improve the profession.”
Dr. Minissale says he hopes Dr. Carlo DiMarco will be remembered for his intellect and his character.
“Dr. DiMarco was really a genius at a lot of things,” he says. “And he was a great friend. He was intelligent, he was easy to talk to, and he had good communication skills. He was just an all-around good guy.”
Dr. Minissale’s sentiments echo what Dr. Anthony DiMarco has heard from friends and colleagues following his brother’s death, he says.
“Over the last five days or so, I’ve gotten maybe 100 calls and messages from people around the country,” Dr. Anthony DiMarco says. “Everybody always says, ‘I can’t think of a bad thing about him.’ That’s pretty telling.”
Dr. DiMarco is survived by his wife, Maria DiMarco; sons Carlo DiMarco and Stephen DiMarco; brothers Eugene Mario DiMarco, DO, Claude Joseph DiMarco, DO, and Dr. Anthony DiMarco; and his mother, Argia DiMarco.