• John DiBartolomeo


Well, I guess the cats out of the bag now after what I alluded to in last week’s Blog. This may not exactly be a “racing blog,” but I felt it important to tell the story.

Ironically, it’s been 50 years almost to the day as to the last time I spent any time in a hospital. I had been on my high school’s track team, yet I was never really fast. At one practice I had attempted to try the pole vault and was surprising sort of good. At the next dual meet, I took first place and was within three-inches I believe of setting the school record. Even though it was my senior year of school, it gave me a determination to break the record at the next meet.

It was the night after that first meet when I became seriously ill, vomiting out the window in my parent’s home. The diagnosis was an appendix that had to come out ASAP. Other than that, and a night I spent in the hospital several years ago when I got third-degree burns, I’ve never had a lengthy hospital stay. All that changed a month ago.

As I mentioned last week, I haven’t told too many people, but I was diagnosed with a tumor on my pancreas on April 25 which was a devastating shock to not only my physical but also mental condition. Initially, I spent five days in a hospital having scans and what not done. I wasn’t noticeably absent from racing and business but there were more important things on my mind than that. The end result was the tumor was small and had not spread anywhere making surgery the first choice of action. While I had confidence in the “team” at the hospital I was diagnosed, I felt it necessary to seek a second opinion.

In the past month there have been several people who have come into my life that have had a major affect on my condition. Naturally; and I apologize; I didn’t let on to too many people as to my situation, but there were several who I confided in who have maybe had similar conditions or knew some importance about the problem. One thing I did do was to pray even harder than ever before. I don’t think I’ve prayed this hard since my Dad passed in ’92, something I feel uneasy about because I felt as if now, I was only seeking the Big Man’s help when time became tough. But I prayed nonetheless.

As it turned out, the pastor of the church we used to attend when we lived in New Jersey; Pastor Craig Lauterbach; had a church member who was on the Board of Directors of Fox Chase Hospital in Philadelphia. Richard Millham became a trusted confidant, making several calls to myself to intervene and have real cause for my condition. He could get me an appointment with Fox Chase, but suggested that the best surgeon in the country; maybe the world; was a Dr. Charles Yeo at Thomas Jefferson University also in Philly. Think of this in this regard, if you had the choice, would you rather have an engine built by Bill Jenkins or Tom Nobody, with obvious no disrespect to Tom Nobody. My best friend Mark Dennebaum has always suggested to go to the best and Dr. Yeo was that person. I’ve asked this question numerous times, “would you rather have someone who had done this type surgery 100 times or one who has only done it 20 times. Dr. Yeo has done over 1,700 of these so-called Whipple surgeries over the years where they remove the tumor, part of the pancreas, the gall bladder and reconnect everything back up.

End result was being fileted open on an operating table for eight hours while they cut, prodded and reconnected everything back up. I honestly thought that a couple of days after the operation I would be able to walk around the shop and maybe instruct as to what needs to be done, but as I write this some four days after the procedure, I’m not so sure. But I will be back. Each surgeon that I spoke with reiterated that I’m clean of that threaded “c-word” but will probably need some clean-up treatment in time. Not sure I’m out of the woods yet, but I’m close to the edge.

Here’s the moral of this story. It was all detected very early and I am extremely blessed. As most of you know, we have a saying in racing, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I’ve been lucky enough to win races, but my pastor has suggested I change that motto to “I’d rather be blessed than good,” and I have been very blessed. Early detection is important. It still bothers me that years ago, the NHRA dropped the requirement of a medical exam for certain Competition Licenses. I know numerous people who have been diagnosed with a problem because they were “forced” to have a medical exam. Get checked. Please. You have no idea what may be lurking in your body. It’s no different than, let’s say, cutting open an oil filter to get a glimpse in an engine.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who called, texted, e-mailed, whatever. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. It’s because of all of that I’m not going anywhere. I still have too much work to do.

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