Posted by Kerry Martin
on 20 March 2019
While a student at De La Salle College, Malvern, Vincent Pellegrino (1984) spent a lot of time with his head in books (when he wasn't listening to Bruce Springsteen), now as the Head of EMCO services at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, part of the hospital's Intensive Care Unit, Pellegrino's academic efforts now help people stay alive.
Pellegrino has had a lead role in the development of ECMO services at The Alfred since 2003 and has provided ECMO training programs nationally and internationally. (EMCO stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, a vital clinical component in treating heart failure).After graduating from the College, Pellegrino completed his Medical undergraduate studies, Physician specialisation and Intensive Care medicine sub specialisation at Monash in the 1990s and was awarded the Matt Spence Prize for Research.
Now a Senior Intensive Care Specialist he has worked in Intensive Care since joining The Alfred 20 years ago.
Pellegrino says every day is rewarding. "The wonder and challenge of critical illness are endlessly surprising and rewarding," he said. "I am privileged to work with a team that is resourced and motivated to support patients that are dependent on life support." I have learned that establishing relationships with patients and families is very important. "It is so important to provide patients and their families a "human" and empathic relationship."
Teamwork is what it is all about in ICU. "I work with a really large team of nurses, medical and allied staff to deliver care that makes a difference. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is seeing our team get better each and every year." He says patient outcomes are improving. "Seeing patients recover fully that would not have been as fortunate just a few years ago."
"Teaching others about intensive care is another part of my role, and I am fortunate to be invited to teach and speak in outstanding institutions overseas." "It is even better when I can take my family with me." "Teaching has taken me all around the world, and I have close relationships with medical teams in Europe, USA, Canada and Asia." Pellegrino is also a Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor appointment at the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine.
As an expert in his field, it is not surprising that Pellegrino has a formidable research profile which currently revolves around his ECMO work. "I'm solely concentrating on ECMO and other forms of short term mechanical support of the heart and lungs. It is a really powerful therapy that allows recovery from the most parlous of states."
Despite the obvious pressures of Pellegrino's work, he loves what he does. "I couldn't think of anything else I would rather do."
When you look through Pellegrino's current commitments on top of his day job, one wonders how he finds time for anything else. As well as his research workload he holds a number of senior positions at The Alfred; he heads up Undergraduate Medical Student Teaching for ICU, he is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Applied Physiology, the Disaster Planning Group and the Transplant Management Committee.
He admits he couldn't keep so many balls in the air without the support of his wife, Monica Rowland, a Speech Pathologist. "I have an amazing partner; she is the magic that keeps the family balanced. She sets up all the pins and allows me to come in and knock 'em over," he said.
Pellegrino and Monica have three children. "Lorna (19) the oldest and is in her first year at Monash, Joseph (17) wants to be a professional sportsman and Luca (14), well he is just cool."
Pellegrino first discovered the importance of relationships while he was still a student at the College. "De La Salle taught me that people matter. Relationships are real and important. I received a great deal of support as a student from friends, and I was able to realise that I was unique and special in my own way. Without this confidence, I doubt I would have got very far. I feel very fortunate I got this support at this time."