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Greensburg pediatrician's legacy is he taught parents to love their kids — regardless

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Aida Spino knew it was time to say goodbye.

Her husband of 46 years, Dr. Pascal Spino, was sick with pneumonia, his mind robbed by Alzheimer's disease. She'd taken him to Westmoreland Hospital, where she stayed with him day and night, just like she had for the past year as his health declined.

“It's time to go,” she told him. “It's all right. Your family is waiting for you.”

Dr. Spino, 91, died a few hours later. The beloved Greensburg pediatrician treated hundreds, if not thousands, of children from across the Westmoreland County community. He was the type of doctor who hugged his young patients, gave them lollipops and paid house calls.

“I don't think there are doctors like him these days,” a former patient, Jamie Shafer of Arlington, Va., wrote in an email after a January story in this newspaper.

Early in his career, Spino lived above his office. When a concerned parent called in the middle of the night, he'd come down in his pajamas, hair disheveled and eyes half-closed. He sold his practice in 2006, but his name remains part of the fabric of Greensburg.

Spino's active life changed with his Alzheimer's diagnosis, which came soon after retirement. He slept most of the time, although his wife encouraged him to take walks. He watched the birds and cars. She fed him yogurt and ice cream. She almost never left his side, quietly hoping his mind would return from the devastating journey that is Alzheimer's.

“I think Dr. Spino had made his peace and wanted to go,” Mrs. Spino, 81, told me this week. “When he was awake, he was compassionate and affectionate. That would last very shortly, and pretty soon he would go to sleep. I was grateful that he didn't suffer.”

As she spoke about her husband, Mrs. Spino shared with me a story her mother had told her when she was a child.

“When you die so peacefully, it's because you have finished your duties on earth,” her mother said. “You've finished your journey here, and you have to start other duties in some other place.”

Even so, Mrs. Spino confided that she feels lost without her husband. On the day we talked, she had just returned from a short drive over to Wood Street, where her husband, the son of Italian immigrants, grew up. As she drove by, she recalled the vegetable garden Dr. Spino's mother had tended years ago.

“You have no idea how heartbroken I am,” she said.

Dr. Spino's legacy, she said, is that he taught parents that regardless of how tough life gets, you have to love your family and your children.

“He always said, ‘If you get mad at your children, don't do anything like slap them,' ” she said. “ ‘Wait, chill out, and then sit down and talk it over.' He loved children more than anything else.”

Her husband remains in her thoughts virtually every minute. Mrs. Spino wants to continue his practice of helping others by finding volunteer work to help the homeless. But not before she sorts through hundreds of cards from former patients.

She finds comfort in knowing that her husband died happy. She watched him take his last breaths, a bittersweet goodbye after a lifetime of joy.

“Don't forget to look after me,” she whispered to him. “Eventually, I will come, and we will be a family again.”

Luis Fábregas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or lfabregas@tribweb.com.

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