Adult Cardiac Surgery, UPMC
CLASS OF 1959
When Dr. Ronald Pellegrini applied to W&J, he received a generous scholarship, but he was forced to delay coming to college for one year. His parents were out of work and he needed to earn money for his family by working in the coal mines like his father. That year taught him a great deal and made him even more determined to succeed in college once he got there.
And succeed he did. In fact, Pellegrini was admitted to medical school during the fall of his junior year. “This happened to be very rare and unusual,” he says, “but when I told Dr. [Dewey] Dieter, all he said was, ‘What did you expect?’”
Pellegrini’s life has continued to be exceptional. In 1974, Pellegrini headed a four-person team that installed the first commercial model of an intra-aortic balloon pump, paving the way for the widespread use of this important surgical technique. And now, after helping to develop the Mercy Heart Institute, he serves as chief of adult cardiac surgery at UPMC and is widely recognized as one of the leading heart surgeons in the country.
Although he works 12 to 15 hours a day, Pellegrini loves what he does. “The most enjoyable thing about my job is my job,” says Pellegrini. “I’m a very lucky man because my vocation and my avocation are the same.”
Pellegrini credits W&J with providing the kind of education that prepares students like him to be flexible and ready for anything. He applauds the professors for focusing not only on teaching facts but also on teaching students to learn things independently. He remembers most fondly Dr. Edwin Moseley, who “never gave a lecture but would always talk about learning, methods of learning, and the importance of being able to learn on your own.” After Pellegrini and his classmates had memorized dates and facts for a test on the Civil War, “Dr. Walter Sanderlin stood up and wrote, ‘What were the causes of the Civil War?’ That question was the whole test,” Pellegrini recalls. Teaching students to think for themselves is a hallmark of W&J that prepared this physician for his remarkable career.