PHILADELPHIA — Nobody ever warns the patients at Pennsylvania Hospital about Pete Schiavo, “The Groin Crusher.”
The first time most people meet Schiavo, they’ve just come out of a coronary procedure and he’s explaining that after the catheters are pulled out of their femoral artery, he’s going to apply pressure to their groin for 20 to 40 minutes to aid in clotting.
Or it would be, if it was anyone else but Schiavo, a gregarious, emotional, wisecracking guy who is all South Philly, even if he lives over the bridge in Jersey now.
Schiavo, 52, was so overwhelmed to learn that reader Sandy Kuritzky, whose husband's groin he crushed earlier this year, nominated him for this series that he wept tears of joy several times during his interview.
"I know he doesn't remember me or my husband because he has his hands on so many groins," Kuritzky said. "But Pete's attitude with his patients and their caregivers is so upbeat and friendly and caring and funny that it makes a stressful time less stressful and difficult."
Patients and their families don’t forget the way Schiavo touches them — physically and emotionally.
He’s won awards, had money donated in his name, and gets stopped all the time by former patients who want to buy him drinks or dinner.
"I'm holding someone's groin for 20 minutes, they tend to remember me and nobody else," Schiavo said. "I tell them: 'I can promise you two things when I'm done: You'll never forget my name or my face.' And they never do."
Patients such as Patricia Walters, 73, of South Philly, are completely taken with Schiavo and his sense of humor.
"What you're doing is really crazy!" Walters said to Schiavo. "You put your whole heart and soul and your whole body into this. You have a gift and talent that's unique."
Schiavo, who held Walters' hand throughout his visit, gave her a big hug.
"I couldn't have been more privileged to hold your groin," he said.
Schiavo estimates he has crushed “well over 10,000 groins, without even a sweat” during his 15 years at Pennsylvania Hospital. He’s learned that a three-finger method works best because if you use your whole hand “you’ll fatigue out in minutes,” he said.
At 5 feet, 2 inches, Schiavo sometimes needs a step stool to stand above patients as he applies pressure for 20 to 40 minutes.
But Schiavo is no stranger to pressure. He grew up at “Nint and Jackson” in South Philly and graduated from West Catholic High before joining the Navy.
He spent six years in the service, during which he ran computers on anti-submarine aircraft, saw conflict in Libya, and was put in gator-infested swamps for survival training.
"My training taught me situational awareness and attention to detail, which helps me in this job today," Schiavo said. "If I'm not attentive to detail here, somebody is going to die."
After the Navy, Schiavo became a welder at a General Electric plant in Southwest Philly. When four of his colleagues died of heart attacks at the plant in a short period of time, GE offered to put employees through EMT and paramedic school so they might be able to aid their colleagues in the future.
Schiavo raised his hand.
After training, he began moonlighting as a critical-care technician and volunteered with his local ambulance company. After the GE plant closed, Schiavo was hired at Pennsylvania Hospital — the nation's first hospital — where he worked as a critical-care tech for three years before his current position opened up.
Within days, he knew it was the perfect job for him.
"This fit me like a glove, this was like the missing piece of the puzzle for me," he said.
Schiavo’s wife of 29 years is a nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital and the couple have two adult daughters.
On his down time, Schiavo likes to make his own wine, cook, and fish “downashore.”
“It takes too much energy to be miserable, it’s just easier to be happy,” Schiavo said, of his indomitably positive spirit.
“I’m the party guy. I’m that guy . I’m all about la dolce vita — the sweet life. I love eating, drinking, and partying, when I’m not working, of course.”