Dr. Alandete, longtime Hanover pediatrician, ‘touched so many lives’ – The Evening Sun
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The Evening Sun
Shortly after Alvaro Alandete arrived in Hanover in the 1960s to become the area’s resident pediatrician, it appeared it wouldn’t last.
Alandete, a Colombian immigrant, received a notice that he was drafted and would have to report to fight in the Vietnam War in 30 days.
However, an anonymous member of the community circulated a petition for him to stay because of Alandete’s importance as Hanover’s only pediatrician at the time. Alandete was eventually granted an exemption so he could continue his work.
“We never felt that we were foreigners,” said Cecelia Alandete, his wife of 56 years. “We were accepted with open arms, all the time, from day one.”
For the next 35-plus years, Alandete, known for going the extra mile for his patients, cared for three generations of Hanover children. He died on Sept. 23, a couple weeks shy of his 84th birthday.
He is survived by his wife, five children — Miguel Alandete, Alvena Pareja, Vicky Doll, Trish Strasbaugh and Javier Alandete — and 12 grandchildren.
Family, former patients and colleagues remembered him for his hardworking, good-humored nature and scrupulous devotion to his patients and their families.
Head of a mouse, eventually a lion
Shortly after the Alandetes got married, the couple traveled to America in 1960 to pursue his medical career. He began as an intern in Virginia before becoming the first foreign physician to be admitted to a residency at the Polyclinic Hospital in Harrisburg.
Alandete was given the choice to start a practice in Harrisburg, where there were already a handful of pediatricians, or come to Hanover, where there was a greater need.
“A doctor friend told him, ‘Al, how would you like to be a head of a mouse and not a tail of a lion?” Cecelia Alandete said.
Meaning, in Harrisburg, he would be one of many in the specialty, while, in Hanover, he would have sole responsibility for serving that community, where he could eventually become that ”lion.”
“That’s exactly what happened,” she said.
Alandete became an American citizen in 1970, a proud moment in his life, according to his wife, although he forever cherished his Colombian roots.
Alandete had his own practice in Hanover for many years. He served as chief of staff at Hanover Hospital from 1988 to 1990 and was honored as “Physician of the Year” in 1996.
Together with Douglas Masucci, he founded Hanover Pediatrics in 1995.
“A wonderful gentleman”
Lavon Leppo, a former daycare owner in McSherrystown, recommended that all the parents at her daycare take their children to Dr. Alandete. Michael Ader, the vice president of medical affairs at UPMC Pinnacle Hanover, recalled that all his colleagues sent their children to Dr. Alandete.
Alandete made Leppo, a patient who became the mother of a patient, feel like family.
“He always remembered every patient’s name,” she said. “He never seemed like he had to go to that chart to remind himself.”
Leppo estimated he must have seen thousands of patients over the years.
Ader described Alandete as incredibly wise, kind, practical and deft at dealing with difficult situations.
He “was able to get people to do things or convince people of doing the right thing without raising his voice,” Ader said. “Just a wonderful gentleman.”
Leppo credited Alandete for connecting her seizures to epilepsy back when it was a less common diagnosis.
Alandete took care of Leppo until she went off to college, which at times was not the end of care for some of Alandete’s patients, according to his family. Some stayed until they had kids of their own.
“They just didn’t want to leave the pediatrician to go to another doctor because that level of trust,” Doll said.
Leppo was in the hospital for three months with a high-risk pregnancy. Alandete came in on New Year’s Eve to help deliver her daughter three months premature.
“He put all of his plans aside,” Leppo said.
Alandete never billed Leppo for that evening. She recalled, in his words, that it was a privilege for him to be there.
“It was never a business for him,” Doll said. “It was always patient care. It was never ever about the money. It was always about doing what was right and helping as many people as he could help.”
Stories like Leppos were not uncommon for the Alandetes to hear, especially in the wake of his death.
“Any time you had told anybody you were an Alandete around town here, they would say, ‘Oh your dad did this or did that,’” Doll said.
The stories spanned from 4 a.m. house calls to catching multiple cases of childhood leukemia. In one case, he referred a family without insurance to a National Institute of Health research study that treated a young girl without cost.
Parents’ only complaint about Alandete was his thick Spanish accent that was difficult to understand for some.
“But they kept coming back,” Doll said.
Doctor, dad and husband
Because of Alandete’s unwavering commitment to his job, his family made sacrifices.
“The stories were and continue to be really helpful in the whole healing process because we always felt, I think, all the kids always felt like we shared our dad,” Doll said. “He was always on call, middle of the night, during any kind of family event, he would have to leave.”
Alandete’s children and grandchildren gushed about him, joking about his sweet tooth, his love-hate relationship with golf and how he was never the disciplinary parent.
“And they knew it,” Cecelia Alandete said. “And sometimes they would go to him first.”
However, the couple stuck together in parenting decisions. Their daughters said he never got mad or raised his voice.
The family had fond memories of campfires and softball games at their summer home, located in East Berlin. The close proximity to Hanover was because Alandete could not bear to be more than 15 minutes from the hospital.
In fact, Cecelia Alandete had a telephone pole installed “like Green Acres” because of Alandete’s anxieties about being too far away from his patients.
“That’s the only way that then finally my husband was more relaxed to stay overnight and be with us,” she said.
The community would pitch in as well. During snowstorms, neighbors or the borough would help clear the road to allow Alandete to safely get to the hospital.
“That’s unheard of,” Alandete said.
Celebration of a life
Alandete’s health declined in recent years through a severe case of sciatica that required several surgeries and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Through it, he maintained his infectious smile and great sense of humor.
Jacqueline Vargas Gastley and her husband, Lloyd Gastley, who cared for Alandete in his final year, said she never laughed harder in all her life than she did in her time caring for him.
Alandete loved singing throughout his life, and that continued through the dementia. He mostly sang Spanish songs, and the family had a projector with the words so the kids and grandkids could sing along.
Dominic Strasbaugh, one of Alandete’s grandsons, was impressed with what his “Gramps” was able to retain in spite of the diagnosis.
“In the last couple years of his life, he didn’t really remember much, but then you would play a song that he knew, and he would sing every word,” Strasbaugh said.
Alandete’s funeral was a celebration of his life, according to his family. The packed ceremony had a “Spanish twist” and the family sang tunes they used to sing with him.
After the news of Alandete’s death spread throughout the community, the response was “unbelievable,” his wife said.
Hearing the stories was not unusual for the family, but the countless visits, cards and flowers have helped them grieve. Two slatted doors in the Alandete’s home are decorated with heartfelt sympathy cards.
“It’s helpful to know now that we shared him, and it was all for all these good people,” Doll said. “He touched so many lives and helped so many people.”