I last saw Dr. Nick Di Benedetto about two weeks ago when he did my pre-cataract surgery workup at Phillips Eye Center in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. As he walked into the room and shook my hand, he said: “Wow, you really lost weight!” We talked about heart health, and how I was “doing all the right things” to promote my longevity. Nick always seemed fit and trim, so I found it hard to grasp the email I received yesterday that he had passed away suddenly. He wasn’t feeling well Tuesday night, but went to work in Union City the next morning anyway. After seeing a few patients he told the staff he needed to go outside for some fresh air. Twenty minutes later when he hadn’t returned, one of the staff went out to look for him. The commotion on the street confirmed her worst fears. A massive heart attack felled Nicolino DiBenedetto, O.D., taking him abruptly away from patients, friends, family, and colleagues.
My thoughts drifted back to the first time I met Nick. S.U.N.Y. College of Optometry had arranged for a group of optometrists from Italy to visit the University in December 1983. They were a lovely group of people, determined to advance their knowledge in all areas of Optometry by participating in lectures and clinical workshops. I was one of the lecturers, but there was a problem: I didn’t speak a word of Italian, and the Italians didn’t speak a word of English. Thankfully we had a young work study student in the Vision Therapy Department who volunteered to help. His name was Nicolino DiBenedetto, and both the Italian delegation and I were the beneficiaries of his kindness. To express their appreciation they made us both honorary members of Ordine Academico Optometristi Veneto, and I proudly display their sign of esteem and gratitude. Yesterday I took the plaque down from the wall, wiping a tear from its glass surface.
After graduating in 1984, Nick went to work for a large, multiple location group in New Jersey known as the The Eye DRx. At one point they asked me to give in-services to their staff about vision therapy, and I was delighted that it reunited me with “Dr. Di”. In 2004 he moved his professional calling card to the Phillips Eye Center, where his clinical skills elevated to a higher plane. He invited me to give continuing education lectures that the Center coordinated, and frankly Dr. DiBenedetto could have asked me to do anything and I would never turn him down.
Two years ago at Elsevier’s Practice Update for Eyecare we decided to do a feature on so-called “dropless cataract surgery” which was new and innovative at the time. The first person I thought of was my cataract surgeon, Dr. Hadley Phillips. He was glad to contribute, but told me that Dr. Di would be much better at writing it up than he. It was a stellar piece, and we featured it as an expert opinion “My Approach” on April 22, 2015. He was very proud of it, and I was very proud of him. I miss Dr. Di dearly already.