HUNTINGTON — Dr. Rocco Morabito Sr. says he has never regretted a day of being a urologist during his nearly four-decade career in Huntington.
“I love my specialty and the rewards it has given me during my career,” he said. “I always said that if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change my choice.”
Morabito, the longest-practicing urologist in the Tri-State as well as an active community leader, has announced that he will retire from St. Mary’s Urology at the end of April.
“My father’s reputation stands not only in the Tri-State area, but also across West Virginia and the entire country,” said his son, Dr. Rocco Morabito Jr., who is also a urologist and works with his father at St. Mary’s Urology. “There are only about 12,000 urologists in the country and he is one of the best.”
That sentiment is echoed by many colleagues, medical leaders and patients.
Morabito Sr. said he was very fortunate to work with excellent urologists over the years, including his son.
“The opportunity to work with my son was beyond description,” he said. “We worked in harmony daily.”
Morabito Sr. added he was also very fortunate to work as a team with exceptional staff in his offices, in the hospital and in the operating rooms.
“One cannot give good health care by oneself — his or her staff is critical in making this happen,” he explained. “Thus, the team concept is crucial. I will truly miss so many whom I had the honor to work with over the years.”
Morabito Sr. grew up in Huntington in the 1950s and ’60s, went to West Virginia University for 13 years, and then returned to his hometown.
“I completed all of my medical school and urology training at WVU in Morgantown,” he said. “I graduated from med school in 1976 and finished my urology residency in 1981.”
Morabito Sr. said he started formulating his plans in 1980 to return to Huntington to open his practice.
“At that time, Mr. Steve Soltis from St. Mary’s was very instrumental in guiding me with the practice details,” he said. “Dr. John Gearhart, from the Ashland area, and I opened Huntington Urological Associates in June 1981.”
Their first office was located in the Highlawn Medical Building, adjacent to St. Mary’s Hospital.
“We practiced urology at St. Mary’s Hospital, Cabell Huntington Hospital, the Huntington Hospital (now River Park Hospital), Putnam General Hospital (now CAMC Teays Valley) and the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital (now Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Huntington),” he said.
The practice became a part of St. Mary’s Medical Center about 10 years ago, and functions as St. Mary’s Urology. The office is located at the Outpatient Center at St. Mary’s.
“Dr. Morabito Sr. has truly been the personification of quality health care in the Tri-State,” said Todd Campbell, president of St. Mary’s Medical Center. “His professionalism and his rapport with his patients have made him a role model for medical professionals across the nation.”
Some of Morabito Sr.’s highlights and milestones during his career include being the first to offer updated pediatric urological treatment and surgical procedures. He brought lithotripsy — a medical procedure that uses shock waves or a laser to break down stones in the kidney, gallbladder or ureter — to the area as a means of treating kidney stones non-surgically.
Morabito Sr. pioneered minimally invasive surgery and treatments for all aspects of urological care in the area. He and his son brought robotic surgical procedures to St. Mary’s.
“So patients can have the most up-to-date treatments with less hospital stay and faster recovery,” Morabito Sr. said.
He said when it comes to his patients, he always remembered the advice of his father, Nick, who was one of Huntington’s most well-known and successful barbers.
“He told me, ‘Treat your patients like you would treat your family,’” Morabito Sr. recalled. “I practiced this advice, and it made the doctor-patient relationship so much more rewarding.”
Morabito Sr. said his interaction with patients is something he will always cherish.
“My patients were the best,” he said. “I was blessed to be able to treat so many wonderful patients of all ages. These people made my job easier and more rewarding. I will truly miss the interactions with all of my patients that I was fortunate enough to treat.”
Many of his patients were also his friends. One is Fran D’Egidio, a 78-year-old Huntington pharmacist and resident.
“We were friends first, since the 1960s,” D’Egidio said. “We had a special bond and lots of things in common.”
D’Egidio said when he was around 40 years old, he also became his friend’s patient.
“I thought maybe he was treating me so special because we were friends, but I soon realized that he treated everyone special,” he said. “It is just the way he is with the same sensitive, caring treatment of everyone he comes in contact with.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams is also a friend and patient of Morabito Sr.
“I had some kidney stone issues about nine years ago and I was in such pain,” Williams recalled. “I have always been grateful for how he helped me.”
Williams said even during the current COVID-19 pandemic, he know Morabito Sr. is there for him and many others.
“All I had to do is call him,” Williams said.
“This is an unprecedented chapter in our lives and in my career,” Morabito Sr. said regarding the virus crisis. “So many things have been affected and changed, but once again, treating our patients is still of utmost importance. I will never forget this chapter, and I know together, we will move forward.”
Over his long career, Morabito Sr. believes he has adapted pretty well to the changes in health care.
“I still preferred my old school approach of talking and listening to my patients, and not just pecking at the computer during our visits,” he said. “Health care is not what it was 40 years ago, and for the most part is so much better. Dealing with insurance companies and the bureaucracy of medicine is something that I surely will not miss after retirement.”
Morabito Sr.’s career highlights include working collaboratively with urology programs in the region to form a more cohesive group.
“We worked together rather than in competition,” he said. “We made St. Mary’s a major referral center for urology, with many of the surrounding hospitals in our region.”
Morabito Sr. said he worked toward creating urology as a center of excellence at St. Mary’s and became an integral part of the Cancer Center at St. Mary’s to offer the latest and most beneficial treatments for all types of urological cancers.
“Dr. Morabito Sr. has also provided St. Mary’s with tremendous leadership, previously serving as a board member for the medical center and continually working as a leader and integral part of our medical staff,” Campbell said.
He served terms as medical staff president and hospital board member and chairman at both St. Mary’s and Cabell Huntington hospitals. He also served as chief of urology at both hospitals and served as president of the state urological society for many years.
“This allowed for all of the urologists in West Virginia to come together for educational and social meetings throughout the years,” Morabito Sr. said.
He maintained clinical faculty positions at both WVU Department of Urology and Marshall University, working with urology residency programs.
“We truly appreciate his contributions to St. Mary’s and to our community,” Campbell said. “He will be missed.”
“I dedicate my career to my parents, who allowed me to pursue my goals and reach my dream of becoming a doctor,” Morabito Sr. said. “I dedicate my retirement to my wife, Brenda, and our sons, who supported me during both good times and bad times over the past 40 years. Now it is our turn together to open the next chapter in our lives, always remembering the past, but anticipating the future happiness that retirement will bring.”
Some of Morabito Sr.’s retirement goals include spending time with family and grandchildren and continuing to play music with the Oakwood Road Band.
“My wife and I both do agility sports with our two Old English sheepdogs,” he said. “This offers so much reward and exercise for all of us.”
Morabito Sr. said he also likes walking, boating, pickle ball, table tennis and “piddling” projects.
“We recently decided to use and travel with our RV,” he said. “We are very excited about the adventures we will experience.”
Morabito Sr. added that he will continue to be a board member with the Greater Huntington Parks & Recreation District and do voluntary activities in the community and his church, St. Joseph’s.