By Ken Mammarella
As an emeritus cardiologist, Dr. Pasquale F. Nestico works only 40 hours a week in that job.
That leaves him time to help lead Filitalia – the international nonprofit he founded
in 1987 to promote and preserve Italian heritage, language and customs – and continue to be “someone who helps others at the best of my ability” in all aspects of his life.
A few years ago, in an unsuccessful bid to represent Italian Americans in Italy’s Senate, Nestico captured his life in seven icons on a campaign brochure. At the center was medicine, and encircling it was Isca, the Calabrian town he was born in, in 1945; the bricklaying trade he learned from his beloved father, Aurelio; San Marziale, Isca’s patron saint; Philadelphia, his home starting in 1967; Filitalia; and Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia, America’s largest independent cardiac care practice, which he co-founded.
“Everything is possible in this country,” he said in an interview from his South Philadel-phia medical office. “It is the best of Italy and the best of the U.S. The best of both worlds.”
Nestico lives in Philadelphia with his wife Anna. They have three children (Aurelio, Concetta and Saverio) and two grandchildren (Luca Pasquale and Christian Giovanni).
Concetta is a cardiologist and partner in Cardiology Consultants. Saverio, elected first vice president of Filitalia International by acclamation at the last convention, will become president in two years.
Nestico was born to a humble family, one that valued duty, saving and carefulness. Class conflicts prevented marriage to an early love, and his parents’ views on honor and education led him to have an hourlong walk to school, to explore multiple careers and to follow his extended family in immigrating to the U.S., with his first job as a bundle boy in H. Daroff & Sons, a Philadelphia clothing factory.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Villanova University, whose philosophy – “Think critically, act compassion- ately and succeed while serving others” – fit so well into his own.
His medical degree followed from Temple University, with a residency in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in cardiology at Hah- nemann University, first as clinical assistant professor of medicine, then five years later as a clinical associate professor and five years later as a full clinical professor. He taught medicine for several decades and three times won the prestigious Teacher of the Award. He also did medical research, writing 73 papers published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals, 30 abstracts, chapters in seven books and in 2017 his bilingual autobiography “From Isca to Philadelphia.” He later taught medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and currently is a clinical professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. While in med school, he founded Comitato Organizzativo San Marziale, to replicate in Philadelphia the feast to San Marziale “and thank the saint for giving me the will and the strength to graduate from the school of medicine that same year.”
Nestico has become a better person by looking inwardly. A bout with renal colic taught him “a doctor must never underestimate nor prolong for one single minute the suffering of any patient.” A later broken tibial plateau while playing soccer reinforced his commitment. “When you are suffering for a small defeat, that experience can contribute to winning your war.”
At age 58, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was given the rank of lieutenant colonel. It was in the spirit of patriotism following the 9/11 attacks, and it changed him. “You see firsthand the human tragedy and suffering and the cost of war. It made me a better person.” He was deployed to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany with a friend, Dr. John Pryor. They trained together at Fort Sam Houston, and Pryor was sent to Iraq where he was tragically killed, leaving a wife and three small children.
Nestico treated soldiers who had made poor lifestyle choices. By contrast, he leads his patients by example, he said, citing five key risk factors: smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and family history. For the last 30 years, he has mostly avoided meat; he maintains an ideal weight; and he’s physically active.
For the same amount of time, Filitalia has been “a passion, a chance to meet people, interchange ideas and be a window on the world.” Its mission: language, culture and service. Its motto: umiltà, giustizia e onestà (humility, justice and honesty).
The name involves triple wordplay. Filitalia is literally a love for Italy, but it’s also the filo (thread) connecting Italians abroad with Italy, and it refers to its founding in the City of Brotherly Love.
Because of his dedication in preserving Italian heritage, the president of the Republic of Italy bestowed upon him the prestigious title of cavaliere in 2004, commendatore in 2007 and grande ufficiale in 2009, one of the highest honors.
Filitalia has two dozen chapters in the U.S. and Italy, with about 1,000 members, but “the sky’s the limit” on its potential, he believes.
Filitalia International (a 501(c)4) is supported by the Filitalia Foundation (a 501(c)3), which Nestico firmly wanted, and owns the History of Italian Immigration Museum, created in 2014 and housed by the M. Fabrizio & P. Nestico Culture and Language Center, a beautiful building on Philadelphia’s Passyunk Avenue to showcase artifacts and, in when not in a pandemic, conduct language and culinary classes.
Nestico concludes his autobiography with an extended philosophical note titled “I love life. For many reasons.” It ends with this thought: “I am convinced that the progress of humanity, in any field, is like an infinite staircase that one climbs step after step, no matter how small they are and how much time conquering them requires.”
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