Born in 1928, Louis Pierucci was raised and spent most of his life in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. His father, Dr. Pierucci, describes a real-life testimony to the American dream – having come from an Italian immigrant family, Mr. Pierucci was able to start a business and own his own home by the time Louis was born. Through this entrepreneurial spirit, the Pierucci family avoided excessive hardships that many others faced in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Dr. Pierucci remembers no excessive hardships as his family could afford adequate and fulfilling vacations to the New Jersey Shore or Poconos Mountains with his father’s fairly decent income. He was also given the advantage of a good, basic education, although, at the time, Dr. Pierucci confesses to not being a good student.
“All of the hardships I experienced, I created on my own. For instance, I was not a good student, as I never studied. I never flunked and would always pass, but I never studied.”
As he got older, Dr. Pierucci’s mother played a significant role in influencing his career path. She told him that he should either be a minister or a doctor. Believing that he would never qualify as a minister, Louis chose to be a doctor and enrolled in Juniata College in Pennsylvania to take his pre-med courses. It was here too that Dr. Pierucci admits to not truly studying as even the pre-med and mathematics courses he took came easily to him.
After graduating from Juniata College with a degree in mathematics, Dr. Pierucci enrolled in Jefferson Medical College. It was during this time that two important things happened. First, Dr. Pierucci had the realization that being a doctor was to be his occupation for the rest of his life and that he better be good at it. As a result, he began studying and considers that this was the moment he became a true student. Secondly, while looking across the room one day, Dr. Pierucci saw a student nurse he instantly fell in love with. This nurse, Donna, would later become his wife of 67 years and the mother of their 6 children, grandmother of 15, and great-grandmother of 8. Speaking of their relationship, Dr. Pierucci relayed that their love affair was intense and lasting.
During his residency, Dr. Pierucci had the privilege of being trained by Dr. John H. Gibbons, Jr. and later working as a part of his group practice. Dr. Gibbons was the inventor and first user of the Heart-Lung machine in open-heart surgery. A junior in medical school at the time of the first Heart-Lung machine procedure, Dr. Pierucci would have the opportunity to operate the machine only a few years later. More of a research man than a thoracic surgeon, Dr. Gibbons, who had a worldwide reputation and was usually out lecturing, gave Dr. Pierucci the chance to meet some of the most outstanding surgeons in the country. Men such as Dr. Cooley and Dr. DeBakey piqued an interest in heart surgery, but eventually, Dr. Pierucci’s interest in vascular surgery won out, and for the majority of his career, this is where he functioned.
In addition to working with Dr. Gibbons for his residency, Dr. Pierucci went into the Air Force on the surgery team at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. As he recalls, it was two of the most interesting years of his life. Not only was it a hugely instructive period in his career, but also fascinating as the base came alive with the examining and approval of the Project Mercury astronauts.
Taken under the wing of the Chief of Surgery at the time, Dr. Pierucci was permitted to be part of the surgical team and operate despite being low-ranking. For instance, shortly after arriving, the Chief of Surgery told him: “I’ve done well over a thousand hernia repairs, and I’m going to show you how I do it, Lou, because I don’t want to do them anymore and you’re the man.”
Dr. Pierucci admits that even though he was still in his residency, he had seen many things that happen in thoracic surgery while the men he was with at the time had not seen much at all. This made him a valuable member of the surgery team and paved the way for recognizing his own skills and opportunities to gain prized experience.
At the age of 43 in 1972, Dr. Pierucci underwent his first open-heart procedure. And in 1986, in his own surgical group’s expert hands, he underwent two more procedures. Because of these surgeries, at the age of 65, he felt it wise to retire and enjoy life after 35 years of practice in the Philadelphia area.
A lover of horses and student of dressage, Donna Pierucci requested that their next home be a farm similar to the one they had in New Jersey. And in 1998, at an auction in the small town of Altavista, Virginia, one particular farm caught their eye. It wasn’t just a farm, but rather a beautiful little piece of everything. There are two high points on the acreage from where you can view the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is also a pond and stream, bottomland, cropland, and a river that encircles the property for about a mile and a half. They were able to have horses, and for 27 years, it was home for the Pierrucis.
In October of 2019, Donna Pierucci passed away from Alzheimer’s, and in the coming period of months, Dr. Pierucci had no real idea what to do with the property. When General Bob Dees and the National Center for Healthy Veterans approached with an offer and the plan for turning the Pierucci horse farm into a wellness center and equestrian therapy for Veterans, it seemed like a perfect fit. During their talks about buying the farm, General Dees related to Dr. Pierruci that one of the primary problems veterans face is suicide.
“When I think of the Veterans who are going to be there [on the farm], I think the one thing they really have to seek is self-respect. General Dees said that one of their primary problems throughout the country is suicide, and when you think about it, who is it that commits suicide? It’s someone who has low self-esteem. You can create good self-esteem. You have to think you’re worth something. And this applies to both men and women.”
Through the various programs and activities, Valor Farm will present to the Veterans living and working there, those who actively seek betterment and self-respect will have the opportunity to find hope. For some of the same reasons, the Pierruci family loved the farm; Dr. Pierucci believes that the Veterans who live and work on the soon-to-be Valor Farm will love it and find healing there.
Dr. Pierucci is now living with one of his daughters and her family in Florida.
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