Dr. Filippo Balboni, co-founder of the Gift of Life program, passed away on March 29, 2018. His obituary from Newsday is reposted here:
Dr. Filippo Balboni dies; led life of healing and service
The pediatric cardiologist, the father of former state Sen. Michael Balboni, saved children and trained physicians all over the world.
Garden City physician Dr. Filippo Balboni, who died Thursday at age 90, seen on April 29, 2009. Photo Credit: Pablo Corradi
By Michael Gormley
Updated March 31, 2018 8:38 PM
Dr. Filippo Balboni escaped a Nazi death squad when he was a 16-year-old growing up in a vineyard outside Rome to become a pediatric cardiologist who saved children and trained physicians the world over. He died Thursday at 90 years old.
The Garden City physician was born in Los Angeles but his parents soon moved back to their native Rome during World War II, said his son, former state Sen. Michael Balboni. That’s where Filippo was rounded up by German soldiers on March 24, 1944, in retaliation for an attack by partisans the day before. As he was held, a woman shouted from a window above, distracting a soldier who sprayed the wall with automatic gunfire.
Filippo squirmed free in the confusion and scrambled away. More than 300 Romans were shot by that death squad in what became known as the Ardeatine massacre.
Balboni grew up traveling and learned Italian from his father, French from his mother and Spanish from their housekeeper, developing a linguistic knack he maintained through his life.
He attended the University of Rome and conducted his medical residencies at the University of Alabama and Cornell University.
When 25 children in Italy needed cardiac surgery, Balboni worked with Rotary International to bring the children to New York at no cost to the families. The effort bloomed into the Gift of Life International program with Balboni, a cofounder, diagnosing children from around the world. The group now treats thousands of children worldwide and helps train physicians.
Among those who sought out Balboni were President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan. In 1983, the Reagans were contacted by a human rights group in South Korea to help two children there, ages 7 and 4, with defective hearts. The Reagans brought the children to Balboni and the Gift of Life program for treatment during the Thanksgiving holiday at his home hospital, St. Francis in Flower Hill, where Balboni was director of pediatrics.
“To Dr. Balboni,” the first lady wrote on a snapshot of the two of them, “With my deep thanks and best wishes. Nancy Reagan.”
His mission of bringing top medical care around the world took him to Asia, Europe and Central America. In Costa Rica, a farmer was brought to a hospital where Balboni was visiting. The farmer had just been run over by a tractor and Balboni used a syringe to drain away blood in the sac around the heart.
In 2009, one of his patients came back for a visit and to say thanks. Robinah Nakabuye of Uganda returned to St. Francis 33 years after the open-heart surgery that saved her life to report that she had been working at the Uganda Heart Institute, helping children with congenital heart diseases.
“I felt great because nature had given her a heart that was severely defective, but nevertheless, we were able to literally reconstruct the heart,” Balboni told Newsday. “That allowed her not only to live, but grow.”
His wife of more than 50 years, Mary Balboni, was also his medical office manager and a nurse, and they had first met at an operating table. She died in 2011 at the age of 78.
In addition to his son, Michael, of East Williston, he is survived by daughters Yvonne Bregman of Ridgefield, Connecticut; Cecilia Vestergaard of St. Petersburg, Florida; and Paula Pottle of Charlotte, North Carolina. Balboni is also survived by eight grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for April 14 at 9:30 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Church in Garden City. The family asks that contributions be made to Gift of Life International.