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Italians in America – Our Immigrant Stories: Transplant surgeon at Temple stays connected to the simple world his parents left


Written by Tanya Tecce

First-generation Italian-Canadian-American Dr. Antonio di Carlo moved to the United States more than 20 years ago to further his medical training in adult and pediatric abdominal organ transplantation and living organ donation. He was a long way from the small town of Fornelli, Isernia, Italia, which his father Michele di Carlo left at age 15 to look for work. After stints in Germany, France and Switzerland, Michele di Carlo eventually made his way to Montreal where he landed for good in 1965. Dr. di Carlo’s mom Rocchina del Sonno arrived from Orsara, Provincia di Foggia with her family in 1960, around age 12.

Dr. Antonio di Carlo vacations in Hilton Head, S.C., with his family, from left: his son Adamo, daughter Juliana and wife Laura.

The eldest of two boys, Antonio spoke only Italian at home. “Mom came over with her parents and there were several generations in our one household. Where I grew up in Montreal you could function entirely in Italian. My grandparents didn’t learn English or French.” Like many immigrant Italians, they never graduated school. All the kids spoke Italian, albeit different dialects, and it wasn’t until most of them started kindergarten that they learned English. The PICAI (Patronato Italo Canadese per l’Assistenza agli Immigrati) held classes every Saturday morning; Dr. di Carlo attended for nearly a decade. Now he speaks four languages: Italian, English, French and Spanish.

His grandparents came from a culture of survival, which served them well in southern Italy. They were experts in the art and science of farming and as soon as they bought their house, they started a garden. Every backyard had one.

Dr. Antonio di Carlo met his wife Laura when they lived just two blocks apart in Montreal where they grew up.

“We never bought vegetables. But I remember my grandfather Nicola telling me as a kid ‘the hoe is heavier than the pen. Learn to use the pen. You don’t want to do what I do for a living.’” Antonio also watched his beloved grandfather struggle with diabetes and other health issues. Since he was the only one who spoke English, he was the translator at all the doctor’s visits. He especially remembers the extra time and consideration the doctors would take with him. It was his introduction to medicine and bedside manner.

His grandfather “wanted us to have a better, easier life, so he pushed for education. It wasn’t so much an adventure or dream; instead these were immigrants leaving a tough life of simplicity.”  This taught them also to enjoy what they did have, including each other. “There were seven or eight blocks of community. You helped each other, took care of each other. We didn’t need babysitters, we had our entire block looking out for us.”

Juliana and Adamo di Carlo visit with their paternal grandparents Rocchina and Michele, Easter 2024.

Antonio would walk with his 70-year-old grandfather Nicola to help at the community garden, especially in August and September. In August they’d crush all the tomatoes, “there was no motor, my arm was the motor,” he laughs. “Our garden alone probably had over 200 tomato plants. Saturday nights in September we’d all huddle around the burner, grilling the pepper harvest and peeling the skins,” he said.

In fall, when most school-age kids were enjoying the last days of summer, young Antonio and family were gearing up for the harvest. “They’d bring entire animals to the garage for butchering and so we could make sausages, prosciutto and salami to hang from the ceiling.” By September the gardens were bursting at the seams; by October everyone’s garages smelled of grapes with the fermenting wine perfuming the neighborhood.

Antonio’s grandfathers died young; Nicola at 72, his paternal grandfather Pasquale at 60. This reinforced in him his grandparents’ belief that being a doctor was a good way of life. 

His grandmothers lived much longer; his paternal grandmother, Annunziata, until 101. Even though she had Alzheimer’s, she remained in their hometown in Italy where everyone knew her. “She didn’t need an institution, the entire town was her family.”

In 2003, Dr. di Carlo arrived at University of Wisconsin, one of the most prominent transplant programs in the world, for his fellowship in abdominal organ transplantation. “They invented it. I was accepted as the first Canadian, the second non-American.” He’s since become Professor of Surgery at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple; Chief of Abdominal Organ Transplant Surgery; Surgical Director of Kidney, Liver and Pancreas Transplantation, and Living Donation, Temple University Hospital; and Chief of Transplantation, St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

He and his wife Laura share two children. Laura currently serves as the Assistant Dean of Allied Health and Nursing at Delaware County Community College. Eldest child Juliana is a senior at Georgetown, starting law school in September; son Adamo is a senior at Episcopal and starts Georgetown in the fall, studying global health.

Dr. Antonio di Carlo

Dr. di Carlo takes his family to Montreal to visit 2-3 times a year where the reminder to enjoy the simple things and lunch at 2 pm on Sunday lives on. “The priorities of life are still family, community and food. Sitting down to share a meal with people means you are thriving.”

From “just survival” to saving lives and thriving; valuing and taking care of each other are threads that run through it all.


Tanya Tecce

Tanya is an Anxiety Anthropologist and Family Alchemist sharing deep nervous system restoratives and healing family constellation work with her clients. Master certified in Transformational Psychology NLP, she curates decades of study and experience in neuroscience, psychology, family constellations, epigenetics, yoga, and ayurveda to heal mindset and fortify your nervous system so it feels safe for you to get what you want. She’s led retreats to Italy annually since 2014 and has worked with Today Media since 2003, IAH since 2019. To learn more about her powerful “suffering obligations of love” work visit: tanyatecce.lpages.co/protect-my-peace/

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