Joseph and Grace DiMartino
Family Comes First
Let’s showcase and highlight Joseph and Grace DiMartino, great friends of our chapter and a loving couple that emphasizes the importance of family as well as service to the community. As you will see, they excel at both and are eager volunteers really making a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis.
Please meet Joseph and Grace DiMartino as Howie Pohl went on location for an in depth interview sharing the DiMartino household, stories, photos, anecdotes and profile with respect to their experience with Transplantation and The Gift Of Life.
Family Comes First
By Howie Pohl
Entering the home of Joseph and Grace DiMartino is like stepping into a time capsule of family history and civic involvement. The den is covered from floor to ceiling with pictures revealing their devotion to their three children and seven grandchildren, numerous other family relatives, and a myriad of organizations which they serve actively. If those illustrations were not enough, Joe is always willing to bring out vintage photographs of the Flushing couple with every important New York City politician of the last half of the twentieth century. The DiMartinos have selflessly dedicated themselves to improving the lot for the less fortunate among us. Long Island TRIO has been the beneficiary of many of Joe and Grace’s efforts.
None of their community endeavors would have come to fruition without the benefit of the liver transplant that Joe received on October 17, 1999. After being listed originally at Mount Sinai Hospital, Joe opted to be placed on the New Jersey transplant list, where waiting times were considerably shorter.
His transplant took place at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. Joe’s liver enzymes had been high since his thirties. When he started to suffer chest pains in his fifties, an endoscopy showed varices, an indication of liver disease. A sonogram later revealed cirrhosis and, eventually, hepatitis A and B. While regulating liquid intake allowed Joe to manage his condition for five years, eventually encephalopathy set in and Dr. Brodsky of New York Hospital Queens determined that transplant was Joe’s only salvation.
Joe was out of the hospital after nine days. He recovered for one and a half months afterwards but endured a setback when he started to suffer from all-day sleepiness and strange hand movements. A local hospital determined that Joe’s stitches were infected and arranged for a nurse to visit daily; she cleaned the stitches inside and out and cured the infection. A later round of preventative chemotherapy reduced his hair supply, but Joe’s good genes returned a full batch afterwards. Joe had stents implanted two years ago to alleviate clogged bile ducts and has since maintained his health.
Good health and adherence to medication schedules (“Prograf and Cellcept…they’re my life” says Joe) have allowed Joe and Grace to maintain a full agenda of civic involvement. The DiMartinos often volunteer at Queens churches as well as at local colleges to sign up people for organ donation. Joe joins LI TRIO volunteers making annual trips to Albany to speak to legislators on behalf of organ donation. He has good relations with numerous Queens legislators; his pictures with famous politicos can serve as an archival history of New York City politics.
Perhaps Joe and Grace’s most beneficial service is their dedication to the Corona Lions Club. Long Island TRIO has often been a prime beneficiary of the DiMartinos’ largess, designated by them as the recipient of Lions’ fundraising efforts. Joe showed me beautifully-printed Lion journal books, with pages prominently displaying LI TRIO.
The Lions Clubs work closely with the Eye Bank, transporting corneal recipients and thereby saving North Shore Hospital millions of dollars in expenses.
Joe and Grace have lived in the same house for forty-seven years. Their three children and seven grandchildren have promoted their sense of familial solidity and security.
Their strength was tested, however, on July 19, 2008, when son-in-law Gary DeStefano was shot three times and paralyzed by a gunman while DeStefano was defending an employee at the insurance office he managed in Bohemia (The gunman killed the 20-year old mother of his child and then killed himself). Doctors at Stony Brook University Hospital saved Gary’s life but the bullets caused extensive internal damage.
Joe and Grace used their Lions Club connection to help their son-in-law with the heavy financial debt incurred as a result of his paralysis. They used the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary by shunning gifts and choosing to earmark funds contributed by Lions to provide Gary with a van that accommodated his limited mobility.
The DiMartino’s home can accommodate Gary easily when he visits as it was originally purchased with Grace’s parents and her mother was wheelchair-bound. AFLAC, the company for whom Gary works, provided a major addition to his Smithtown house to make it more wheelchair-friendly. Gary’s ultimate goal is to walk again and the DiMartinos efforts have helped him on his heroic journey.
All of Joe DiMartino’s activities, aided and abetted by Grace – the Retirement Association of the Transit Workers’ Union, the Lions Club, the 110th Precinct Council, the Sons of Italy, the Eye Bank, the Queens Democratic Party – have greatly helped his community. As Joe says, “I just can’t say no,” and his efforts have supported many, including those of us involved in organ donation.