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New practice perfect for Greensburg's Dr. Spino

Mary Pickels
| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 11:15 p.m.

After a half-century of treating generations of children in his Greensburg office, Dr. Pascal Spino is starting a new job at the age of 84.

And as many as 3,000 of Spino's patients could follow him to the new practice he's affiliated with.

A Greensburg pediatrician for more than 50 years, Spino recently sold his practice to Pediatric Associates of Westmoreland, Ltd., located in Medical Commons One on South Street.

The only way he agreed to sell, said Dr. Thaer Almalouf, was if the physicians in the group would permit him to continue practicing.

For now, Spino, who will turn 85 in April, sees patients Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"Make it four (days) soon, will you?" Spino joked to Almalouf.

"He always comes early," Almalouf said. "He can't wait."

Spino recently spent two months hospitalized with pneumonia.

"I had to make a decision" about selling the practice, he said.

But he was not about to retire.

"I said I'd die with my boots on," Spino said.

In addition to Almalouf, Spino joins Drs. Ayman Arouse, Maria Childers, Catherine Udekwu and physician's assistant Ann Marie Bethke.

"We approached him," Almalouf said. "We felt that we could support more volume. We thought this was a perfect fit."

Unlike most doctors, Spino carries no beeper, no cell phone.

"He's either at his office or at home," Almalouf said.

Asked when he last took a vacation, Spino looked puzzled, and guessed it was about 25 years ago.

While still a child growing up in Greensburg, he made a covenant.

"I said I would be a pediatrician," Spino said. "I would make house calls and I would see patients on Saturdays and Sundays."

In 2005, Roderick Booker, Hempfield Area School District's director of music, presented Spino with the Citation of Excellence Award from the Hempfield Area Marching Band.

Booker recalled taking his young son to the doctor's office at 2 a.m., and finding Spino tending to several patients.

So did Jill Way, of Mt. Pleasant. Way was Spino's patient as a child, and he cared for all four of her children since infancy. The oldest two, now college students, still make appointments with him when they are home.

"You could call at 11 p.m.," Way said. "If he was there, he wouldn't turn you away.

"He's so smart," Way said. "He's seen so many things, he knows what it is. I have 100 percent faith in him."

Spino knew when to send a patient to the hospital, or when someone required a specialist, she said.

"Many nights we were there with a roomful of patients," Way said. "If he did send you to the hospital, he would come and check on you."

Two years ago, her youngest daughter had a rash on her stomach and torso.

"He took one look, didn't even touch her. He said, 'Oh, that's pityriasis rosea.'

"He has such heart and compassion," Way said. "He will treat each kid, rich or poor, clean or dirty. If he hears a child crying, he'll come out and say, 'What's wrong?' ... You knew he truly cared about the kids, and you could trust his opinion."

Way was not surprised to hear Spino was not retiring, even after his recent illness.

"I think the day Dr. Spino can't be there, he probably has nothing to live for," she said. "His life is for his practice and his patients."

Spino's practice also led him to become an advocate against child abuse. Ten years ago, he was devastated by the death of a patient, 4-year-old Ashley Decker. Her father, Kenneth M. Decker III, of Blair County, was given custody of the child, and later was charged with beating her to death.

Spino treated the girl while she lived in Greensburg with her grandmother, and suspected she was being abused. In a letter to the editor published in the Tribune-Review, he berated a system that failed to protect Ashley from harm.

Soon after, Spino spoke out at a Harrisburg rally regarding children's issues and child welfare reform, and urged a stop to child abuse.

He has been lauded by the medical community.

Dr. Ralph A. Capone is assistant chief medical officer and chief quality officer at Excela Health.

"Dr. Spino clearly is a distinguished member of our medical staff," Capone said Monday. "He has really been an icon of pediatric care in our community for many generations. ... He comes from a different era. He's a wonderful human being and competent and caring physician, and has been a resource in this area of inestimable value."

Dr. Rana Ziadeh and Dr. Thomas Maroon, co-chairs of the pediatric department at Excela Health, both praised Spino for his dedication to his patients.

"He has a great sense of humor," Ziadeh said, adding that Spino also is "a flirt."

But his patients are his priority.

"Nobody can come close to practicing the way he does it," Ziadeh said. "I tried to cover for him for a period of time. He would say, 'Don't forget this, don't forget that.'"

"It's old-school doctoring," Maroon said. "I have a lot of respect for that. He'll do anything for his patients."

But Spino, who started well baby and dental clinics in Westmoreland County, is quick to give others credit.

The well baby clinic, first housed in a Trafford church basement, got off the ground with the assistance of the Kiwanis Club wives, he said.

And Greensburg Volunteer Fire Chief Ed Hutchinson, whose own longevity with the fire department is often lauded, once sent his firefighters door to door to collect donations for a child in need of a transplant.

Spino once made his own prediction about hanging up his stethoscope.

Westmoreland County Community College honored him with the 2001 Distinguished Humanitarian Award, recognizing his dedication to the care of children.

At the time, Spino said, "I love it so much. I leave it to God to determine when I should give it up."

Reminded of those words yesterday, he nodded and grinned.

"I've had the most wonderful life," Spino said.

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