The 22-year-old program, named for the late Jersey City Fire Captain Dominick Buscio, Sr., helps police, firefighters, and EMTs monitor their heart health without worrying about insurance copays.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 7, 2024
In 2000, Jersey City Fire Captain Dominick Buscio, Sr., sustained a fatal heart attack while on a ski vacation with his family.
Buscio, Sr. “was the picture of health,” his widow, Donna, wrote after his passing, and had passed a complete physical only 19 months earlier.
“Since he was found to be healthy at that time, he decided not to return for his annual physical the following year,” she wrote.
“While many people his age make the decision not to seek regular checkups, in his case, it resulted in an inconceivable loss to all of us.”
In the wake of her husband’s death, Donna Buscio partnered with pulmonologist Dr. Manmohan Patel to help cover the cost of annual, comprehensive medical examinations for firefighters through a program dubbed “A Gift From Captain Buscio.”
In the 22 years since the program was established, it has been expanded to cover career and volunteer first responders, including police and EMTs, as well as retirees from those services.
Through the program, Dr. Patel’s offices across New Jersey work with a variety of board-certified cardiologists, pulmonologists, and insurance payers to make sure that finances aren’t a barrier for first responders to have these critical exams.
He estimates that they have completed 15,000 screenings since 2002.
Dr. Patel’s fifth office, Cardio Pulmonary Diagnostics, opened in Voorhees a little less than a month ago.
It’s the first in the region to offer A Gift from Captain Buscio, which means that first responders in South Jersey will be able to more comfortably schedule the comprehensive testing panel — which can run some four hours — closer to home.
Matt Caliente, President of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFA-NJ), said it’s been two years of coordinating with Dr. Patel to get the office open in an area that will “reach members where they live.”
“Only 25 percent of PFA-NJ members go get a test,” Caliente said. “If we get these locations in people’s faces, they have a better chance of getting the exam.
“That we were able to bring this program here is a great benefit to our new members,” he said. “Cancer and cardiac issues are the numbers one and two line-of-duty deaths.”
The screening procedures involve a cardiac ultrasound, stress and breathing tests, chest x-ray, retinal scan, complete blood test, and physician evaluation. Results typically are returned within two weeks.
Dr. Patel said the condition that claimed the life of Dominick Buscio, Sr. was a genetic predisposition that likely would have been caught with the depth of screening provided in the program that bears his name.
“First responders are at high risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Patel said.
“If he had the same testing done, we would have picked up this lesion.”
Cherry Hill Fire Chief Wade Houlihan said that routine cardiopulmonary screening helped save the life of at least one firefighter in the township department in the time since A Gift From Captain Buscio was established.
“They caught a condition that put him out of the job; he pensioned out,” Houlihan said.
The chief lauded the comprehensive nature of the program and the depth of results it returns for first responders.
“You get a pretty good snapshot of where you’re at,” Houlihan said.
At 39, Dominick Buscio, Jr., of Blairstown, is now the same age that his father was at the time of his death.
Dominick Buscio, Sr. was “a great father, a great leader; a great captain of the Jersey City Fire Department for 18 years,” his son said.
Buscio, Jr., who visited the Voorhees office with his brother, Louis, said the family still hears from first responders and their families who’ve benefited from the program.
It inspires them to think that, although their dad has been gone for two decades now, he’s still making a difference for people doing the same job today.
“We’re proud of the program because it has our father’s name on something that has saved lives,” Buscio, Jr. said.
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