Giancarlo Rastelli, heart surgeon and researcher, died 2 February 1970
at Rochester Minnesota.
But it is difficult to retrace the course of this young doctor from Parma, a complete Christian, a Marian devotee, a poor emigrant with a NATO scholarship, a humble Italian doctor in the open competition of the minds and the millions in America. It is difficult to explain to the young doctors of today how he made these discoveries alone and, above all, in the last 5 terrible years of the illness that he had contracted through work and research. He diagnosed himself, suffered in silence, day after day, reducing to a minimum his hours of sleep, stealing time from life without keeping it for himself. He wore with dignity the death that was eating into him, taming it with his usual optimistic smile, the smile of the young man who is always able to see further and higher, even in everyday life. When he was a student, if he was asked :< What would you do if you knew that you were going to die?> he replied with the words of S. Filippo Neri "I would continue to play ball." The ball for him was his profession in the American experimental heart surgery rooms or in the Pathological Anatomy Archives where he went to examine hundreds of operated and preserved hearts. There he remained until 4 days before his death, coherent, true to himself, bound with passion to his research, to his patients. Yet Gian, as he was called by everybody, even in America, was young (only 37 when he died,) handsome, likeable, full of jokes and good humour. Professor Kirklin, one of the greatest American heart surgeons, wrote these words about him after his death: "The first thing that I noticed was his handsome Latin face, that infectious smile his great humanity for his fellow man."
believed in man in toto. He had been brought up by the Jesuits in Parma
( Padre Molin Mosè Pradel) within the culture of "the man
to be saved" and of service to others, always aware that doctors,
hospitals, and research centres only exist because there are ill people.
These people and structures have been created around the figure of the
patient, and not to guarantee jobs to employees. The patient as a person
as the most important, absolute priority objective. Everybody remembers
how the days and Gian's house were always free to give hospitality to
Italian children with heart diseases while they were waiting for their
operations, and how he was always the first to contribute, when necessary,
to help to pay for their operations in America. The table in his American
house was attached to the floor and leaned; a boiled egg or apple placed
on the table would roll onto the floor. But for his guests, the children
and their parents, every day he would hand round the mixed salad of many
boiled eggs, the frugal meals of the researcher (and as such poorly paid)
who had chosen to grow in science and solidarity rather than in money.
" A humble doctor- wrote his colleague Tiberio D'Aloia - but proud
to reach the crux of the matter, the point where the many questions of
man meet. He succeeded because he loved medicine aimed at the person
all of us doctors it was the hope of building a different, more human,
society", to change society, not to be subject to it. "His discoveries-D'Aloia
continues-for the correction of the truncus arteriosus and for the transposition
of the great vessels were very difficult, but I can never forget how he
presented them to us, with simplicity, on a piece of crumpled paper, as
if we would understand his language and yet he was always open to criticism
from us. And if the others did not understand, he would think that he
himself was the fool "because" he said "the truly cultured
person must make himself accessible to all, otherwise he is a charlatan
who speaks only for himself ."
Mayo Clinic (charitable organization), when he was yet to be called to
research, he wrote: " Here the earthenware jars break immediately.
The values in play are real and are examined every day. There is no place
for nepotism, politics, academicism and influence."