All in the Family
Many refer to their units, departments or hospital as “one big family.” Maybe it’s because we spend so much time together, or because some invite relatives to apply because it’s a great place to work. This section is about those connections. We want to hear your story.
For One Couple, It All Started at IOL
In July 1979, Jim DeGiovanni arrived on the campus of the Institute of Living (IOL) to complete a doctoral internship in clinical psychology. Little did he know it would be his home for 40 years and his future bride was already there.
Two years before he arrived, Sarah Gordon began working at the IOL as a psychiatric aide in the nursing department. She enjoyed taking part in staff plays performed for patients and families. During one, “Bye Bye Birdie,” she was introduced to a cast mate’s friend, and the rest is history.
After his internship ended, DiGiovanni returned to Temple University to complete dissertation research, and the two began a long-distance relationship for the next year.
“We were pretty clear very early that this was meant to be,” he said.
“Once we had a chance to get to know each other, it felt like we had known one another for a long time,” Sarah DiGiovanni added.
The pair took turns visiting each other on weekends. In between, they wrote letters, often with poetry.
“We were engaged by the end of that year,” Sarah DiGiovanni said. “It was very romantic. We didn’t have cell phones so we would write letters.”
“And have late night phone calls to maximize the savings after 11 p.m.,” her husband joked.
The pair married Sept. 12, 1981, the same year Jim DiGiovanni returned to the IOL.
In their time at the IOL, both served in multiple roles. Sarah worked in utilization review and ended her career in ambulatory services. Jim was hired as a staff psychologist and served as director of the psychology training program, coordinator of group therapy,and retired as director of the psychology department and psychology training.
Almost 40 years after their wedding, the DeGiovannis said goodbye to the place where it all started and began their retirement journey.
The couple has two children, two grandchildren and a third on the way. They hope to spend time traveling and watching their grandchildren grow. Jim DiGiovanni said he plans to pursue his teaching and supervisory interests, and will continue to work in private practice.
“For both of us, the IOL will always be in our heart,” Sarah DiGiovanni said. “It is a very special place and enabled me to live the life that I wanted. I’m grateful for the opportunities it enabled me to have and to grow.”
Like Father, Like Daughter
Dr. Anthony Alessi’s daughter, Dr. Stephanie Alessi-LaRosa, has joined him at sporting events and seeing Hartford HealthCare sports neurology patients.
Father-daughter relationships are often unique, as is the case with Hartford HealthCare neurologists Drs. Anthony Alessi and Stephanie Alessi-LaRosa.
Accompanying her father to sporting events like New York Yankees spring training, where he worked as a consultant, prompted Dr. Alessi-LaRosa to recast her professional goal of becoming a physical therapist to medical school and, eventually, to becoming a sports neurologist. She is now director of the Sports Neurology Program at Hartford Hospital. Around the same time, her older sister, Catherine, also opted for a career switch from nursing to medical school and neurology. She is currently an attending neurologist at UConn Health.
The 67-year-old Dr. Alessi now shares his passion — which includes 29 years at Backus Hospital — with both daughters.
“My dad has been a life-long role model for everything — as a father, as a person and as a doctor. He’s passionate about everything he does,” Dr. Alessi-LaRosa said.
She was especially hooked on medicine after cajoling her father into taking a medical mission trip with her to Haiti.
“Haiti was life-changing,” her father recalled. “Being there was an eye-opening experience for both of us.”
Their relationship has taken on an added dimension as they are colleagues sharing information on the latest treatments and technologies.
“It’s what keeps me going — learning the newer stuff from them,” said Dr. Alessi.
Sports neurology, in which the physicians work with athletes to prevent or treat injuries such as concussion, is a newer subspecialty that appealed to Dr. Alessi-LaRosa, a college golfer.
Time the pair spend together as ringside physicians during boxing events has been especially rewarding.
“I like the idea of keeping sports safe for the athletes, plus it’s always fun being on the sidelines and courtside together!” Dr. Alessi-LaRosa said, although she quickly added that knowing whether to call a fight is still stressful.
“You want to have the respect of the fighters and officials.”
She learned by watching her father’s reactions.
“The ringside experience is a stress test for neurologists,” he explained. “You literally have one minute to make a decision in the corner between rounds. Boxing is the only sport where the goal is to neurologically impair your opponent, and a quick decision may save that person’s life.”
Working together, both agreed, is a rewarding experience.
“Stephanie has boundless energy and will drop anything to take care of a patient any day, any hour. I couldn’t be prouder,” Dr. Alessi said before ending the conversation by saying, “Let’s get back to work, Steph!”
HHC welcomes three generations
Colleagues at Hartford HealthCare often refer to the system as a “family” of healthcare facilities, service lines and business units; with more than 33,000 colleagues, however, there are many actual family members working together as well.
Some family connections span several generations, as is the case with the Cohen family.
One of the newest additions to the Hartford HealthCare family is Beverly Cohen, who recently moved into Cedar Mountain Commons, an independent and assisted living retirement community in Newington that’s part of Hartford HealthCare Senior Services division.
Her son is Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, executive vice president and chief clinical operating officer for Hartford HealthCare. Her granddaughter, Elinor Cohen, is a member of the HHC media relations and content team.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for her and we could not be happier with my mom’s transition to Cedar Mountain Commons,” said Dr. Cohen. “Living at a facility that is a part of the state’s largest, most comprehensive healthcare system offers many advantages, including the peace of mind knowing that she can be seamlessly connected to any type of care she may need.
“More importantly, my mom has been welcomed into a warm and engaging community, made a lot of new friends and we know she’s in great hands with the staff there.”
Beverly Cohen enjoys the sense of friendship, family and community she gets from living among new friends most of all.
“Everyone here is so friendly and they all have such a positive attitude,” said the 90-year-old. “It’s such a wonderful group of people and they have made me feel very welcome”
During a recent visit with Elinor, whose office in Newington is just up the driveway from Cedar Mountain Commons, Beverly Cohen reminded her that every day should begin with a laugh because “laughter is the best medicine.”