By Anastasia Marchese
Dr. Albert Ritter was not planning on using his professional skills on that October afternoon in 2014 when he first met Michael DiMaggio.
Ritter and his wife Janis Joseph were just out for a casual walk.
“We were out walking our dog,” he said. “We were actually standing on the gas station property,” when a car struck Michael as he was walking home from school. Michael, than 11 years old, was seriously hurt, as Ritter, who is an emergency room doctor, was quick to ascertain, “he has a broken arm and badly injured leg.”
Ritter recalls that he was unsure if Michael’s leg could be saved.
“The paramedics came but the driver was having a medical situation as well,” so another paramedic unit responded at Ritter’s request. He remembers holding Michael still to prevent him from moving his neck. As he assessed Michael’s condition he spoke with him, informing him that he is a doctor and encouraging him to be calm. As is normal in trauma situations, Michael was unclear as to what had happened and the extent of his injuries. As Ritter spoke to him, he looked up into his eyes and asked, “Are you going to leave me?”
Ritter assured him that he would not, and having that assurance helped Michael to stay calm despite his circumstances.
Since that accident, Michael has had multiple surgeries and many blood transfusions.
“Michael is an extraordinary young man,” said Ritter admiringly. Michael was in the hospital for months and months. According to Ritter, the community and family supported him, the hospital staff and his medical team “did a phenomenal job. Everything came together the way it is supposed to.”
The DiMaggio family wanted to honor Ritter and his wife for their selfless acts of service. They had a bench placed on the sidewalk near the intersection of Main Street and Hillside Avenue, where the accident took place. The bench bears a plaque with the words, “Dr. Al Ritter & Janis Joseph, Our Angels here on Earth.”
When asked about the bench, Ritter was clearly honored.
“It came very much as a surprise,” said Ritter. “The family is very appreciative, very appreciative.” He also stressed his admiration for Michael and his character, as well as his own appreciation for the DiMaggio family’s efforts to tangibly show their appreciation.
One of the ways is through their annual Red Cross Blood Drive at the Chatham Fish & Game Club located at 41 Fairmount Ave. in Chatham. This is the third year that the drive will be held in honor of Michael DiMaggio. In 2014 Michael checked out of the hospital for the day to attend the first blood drive. Last year the drive had twice the amount of donors. This year the drive was set to be held on Dec. 11. The family was hoping for an even greater turnout, so that blood can be available to other patients in need of life saving blood.