After 42 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Sam Martino celebrated his last day in the office on Dec. 21. The good doctor and his staff members welcomed former patients and well-wishers who came by the Florida Medical Clinic in Riverview to say goodbye to a much loved and respected physician who has treated many of them from infancy into adulthood.
Martino recently spoke to Tampa Bay Times correspondent Kathy Straub about how much medicine, the community and his perspective have changed since he started practicing medicine in Riverview in 1976.
Talk a little about your background, where you're from and your education.
Well, I'm from Tampa. I went to Jesuit High School and then to Tampa University, then on to medical school in Kansas City, Mo. When I graduated from there, I did my hospital training in Dayton, OH. Then I came back home in 1976 to start a practice here. I had too many relatives in Tampa so I decided to get out into the rural area. When I started here, it was very rural so obviously, it's really changed a lot since then.
Actually, my grandfather owned a feed store on Highway 60, Martino Feed Company, and he used to deliver feed to a lot of the dairy farmers out here, so a lot of them remembered my grandfather and my uncle. They had that feed store until the mid- '60s and then sold it. Of course, back then, Highway 301 was just a two-lane road and we didn't really see all of this development until about 1986 or '87.
Why did you choose medicine as your career?
I was inspired by my brother-in-law who was a doctor. He was in practice in Dade City and I spent some time with him.
You practice family medicine. What exactly does that entail?
Basically, it's treating all age groups, just general practice. But we used to do a lot more. We'd treat a lot of fractures and lacerations, things like that. Now, it's more just chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, COPD, blood diseases. Seems like we did a little of everything back then. I was in practice before the Brandon Hospital came into existence. That came about in 1978-79. When the hospital was built, then the specialists started coming in which really helped everybody.
What about your family?
I'm married to my high school sweetheart, Eileen, and we have 3 daughters who are all married and we have seven grandchildren.
Talk about the changes that you have seen in medicine since you started 42 years ago.
The biggest change would be that when I started, I delivered babies for the first two years, but then that got to be infeasible because of the high cost of malpractice insurance. The other thing is that I did hospital work for about 35 years but now, none of the new doctors do hospital work. They basically just work in the office and refer their patients to a hospitalist to do the hospital work. That's been a big change. Other than that, things are pretty much the same as far as practice goes.
Aside from the changes in medicine, have you seen any increase in certain diseases since the '70s?
We've seen a big increase in diabetes and we're seeing a lot more breast cancer as well as pancreatic cancer. Those three things in particular. I believe it's an environmental thing with diabetes because of diet. I'm not sure about the breast cancer and pancreatic cancer but those could certainly be diet-related, too. Also, an increase in dementia, which is sometimes mislabeled as Alzheimer's but there can be many forms of that. Some forms of memory loss are aggravated by not having any source of interaction. Older people tend to live alone and watch a lot of television and have no mental stimulation. I think that contributes to memory loss and loss of cognitive function.
Do you have any memorable cases or good stories you can share?
When I started here, the hospital had just opened so that would have been about 1978, and this kid came running in the office and said, "My father is bleeding to death." At that time, there was no EMS, there wasn't even a fire station. So I ran out to this guy and blood was squirting out of his arm. A sheet of tin had lacerated the radial artery so I told the girls to call the vascular specialist to meet us in the emergency room. I got in the truck with the guy and we drove to the hospital. I managed to get the bleeding stopped with a hemostat. We got to the hospital and they took him right to surgery. His arm was blue by that time. But the surgeon was able to rejoin the artery and he got the circulation back. Well, the guy had no insurance so both the surgeon and I got oranges for years and years after that. He owned orange groves.
Saving someone's life must be the best part of being a doctor.
Just helping people is why you do this. Being able to intervene with certain illnesses and help the patient live longer … yes, that's very satisfying.
How are you feeling right now knowing that this is going to be your last week in practice?
It's a little bittersweet. It's going to be hard because so many of my patients have become friends over the years. It's been a pretty emotional day. But I've got to do it sometime.
Plans for the future?
Oh, probably go sailing, stuff like that. I want to do more things with my grandchildren because all but one of them live close by.
Any final thoughts?
I really believe that the most important thing that you can have is kindness and generosity and a good "bedside manner". I'm seeing a lot of patients for the last time so this is a very emotional time for me.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Kathy Straub at email@example.com.