SALEM–The Salem High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) has selected Peter Apicella, M.D., as its 2018 Honored Alumnus.
Making a difference in his hometown
Apicella grew up in Salem and decided to return to Salem to practice medicine after earning undergraduate and medical degrees and completing training in diagnostic radiology.
Frank Zamarelli, Salem High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) vice president who chairs the Alumni Relations Committee, noted the association received many applications from all over the country.
“We are happy to award this honor to Dr. Apicella. He embodies excellence in many facets of his life and is an exemplary Salem High School graduate,” Zamarelli said.
“Aside from his extensive medical experience and excellent care of Salem Regional Medical Center patients, the many generous ways that Apicella contributes his time and talents to make a positive difference in the community beyond his work as a physician made his nomination stand out.
“For example, Apicella uses his computer knowledge to assist local nonprofit organizations such as the Rotary Club of Salem, the Salem Community Center, and the Salem High School Alumni Association, to name a few.”
As chairman of SHSAA’s technology committee and as a board member, Apicella has created SHSAA’s current website with archival information that includes yearbooks and Quaker student newspapers back to 1893; scholarship recipients back to 1908; an alumni remembrance and military recognition section; and even high-fidelity band concerts from the 1950 and 1960s. This past year he led the revision of the association’s bylaws and update of its computer system.
“I am proud to recognize Dr. Apicella as an outstanding 1982 classmate, colleague, and friend,” said Zamarelli.
Capitalizing on national craze
As a Salem High School student, Dr. Apicella was known for his math and computer skills. In 1977 as a seventh grader he built a minicomputer with his father, Frank Apicella, M.D., who was a radiologist at Salem Community Hospital. This was before the personal computer revolution, and Apicella taught himself computer programming, earning early Microsoft Software Developer certification.
As an entrepreneurial teenager, Dr. Apicella not only taught himself to solve the Rubik’s Cube — the top-selling puzzle game that was extremely popular in the 1980s — but he also wrote a book with step-by-step directions. He and James Harrington, also of SHS Class of 1982, then formed a company to sell it through advertisements in The National Enquirer. They even copyrighted the solution method and had the book placed into the Library of Congress.
Dr. Apicella graduated as a top 10 academic student in the Class of 1982 and received a $5,000 academic scholarship from SHSAA. He enrolled at John Carroll University in Cleveland and earned a bachelor’s of science degree in biochemistry and computer science, graduating summa cum laude. While in college he wrote artificial intelligence software for chemistry instruction that won several awards.
During summer breaks from college he wrote computer software for several Salem area physicians to maintain health records and perform medical billing, which was an early form of electronic health records used today. He also developed an early computerized remote X-ray viewing service known as teleradiology that was used by the Salem Community Hospital.
Blending computer knowledge with medical studies
Convinced that medicine needed to utilize computers, Dr. Apicella decided to attend medical school at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in August 1986. In addition to learning the art of diagnosing and caring for patients, Dr. Apicella performed research that crossed the emerging field of computer science with medicine. For instance, he designed an artificial intelligence computer radiology teaching system and helped design an advanced imaging system that is still part of the underlying medical imaging technology used today.
After earning his doctor of medicine degree, Dr. Apicella completed a four-year residency program in diagnostic radiology at the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, an international leader in medical imaging services at Washington University. His work there led to several published research papers and presentations at medical professional conferences.
Returning to Salem
Dr. Apicella and his wife Sherri, who grew up in St. Louis, moved back to Salem because they wanted to raise their children in a safe, quiet place. The couple’s two daughters are now both enrolled in college: Julianna at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., and Alexandra at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
In 1994 Dr. Apicella joined his father and his uncle, Dr. Salvatore Apicella, M.D., at Salem Radiologists Inc., a private medical practice that provided radiology services at Salem Community Hospital, now known as Salem Regional Medical Center.
“Being able to come back to my hometown and take care of the families of the many people that I grew up with has been very satisfying. Every day I recognize the names of families and friends in need of my care,” Dr. Apicella said.
Through his forward-thinking medical practice and multiple leadership roles at the Salem hospital during the past 25 years, Dr. Apicella with the support of the hospital board has ensured that local residents have the most advanced medical imaging technologies available. These include 3-D computed tomography (CT), 3-Tesla (3-T) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), 3-D mammography, high-definition ultrasound, digital X-rays, and positron emission tomography (PET/CT) that allow Dr. Apicella and his colleagues to diagnose a wide variety of illnesses. Read more about the technology at www.salemrad.com.
“The technology is the key to everything I do,” Dr. Apicella said. “We look for advancements in medical imaging that can improve the care of our patients,” explaining that physicians from other cities including Akron, Canton, Youngstown and Sharon send patients to the Salem Regional Medical Center for 3-D CTs and 3-T MRIs using the highest quality machines available between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
During an interview at his office, Dr. Apicella explained that he “is very excited about” the technology that makes it possible to diagnose cancer before it spreads and artery blockages before a heart attack occurs. For patients, the difference is “life changing.” “This is why I love what I do as a doctor,” he said.
Serving the Salem community
As an energetic person who efficiently tackles challenges during his busy work days, Dr. Apicella also makes time for various community service activities.
For the past 17 years he has coordinated Salem Rotary Club’s Annual Career Day at the Kent State University Salem Campus for more than 100 Salem High School juniors, involving more than 50 professionals sharing information about their careers. He has helped other communities create similar programs and has been awarded Rotary International’s Vocational Service Award, Rotary’s highest honor, for these activities.
Throughout the year Dr. Apicella talks with local students individually or in groups and encourages them to pursue healthcare careers. He also serves as medical director of the Kent State Salem Radiology Technologists Program.
Dr. Apicella is a member of the board of directors of the Rotary Club of Salem and chairs its vocational committee and charitable foundation. He acted as club president from 1999 to 2000. He is the past chair and an active member of the Salem Regional Medical Center staff, along with serving on its board of directors. He is the past chair, secretary and a member of the board of directors of the Salem Community Center. He is also the president of Salem Radiologists Inc., the medical practice that his father founded more than 50 years ago.
He considers computer programming his hobby and contributes custom-designed websites to several organizations in which he is involved. In addition to the Salem High School Alumni Association’s website (www.salemohioalumni.org), Dr. Apicella has created websites for the Salem Community Foundation (www.salemcommunityfoundation.org), and the Salem Community Center (www.salemcommunitycenter.com).
Recently he completed created the web interface for the Salem Public Library to make its microfilm copies of the Salem News back to 1905 available online at www.salem.lib.oh.us/SalemNewsFilm
“I chose medicine to combine my knowledge of computers and science to care for others. I chose radiology following in my father’s footsteps because of its extensive use of technology and my ability to interact with physicians and patients. I returned to Salem to make a difference in my community. I am rewarded every day for that decision.”
This article was published in the Salem News on 4-8-2018 (www.salemnews.net/news/local-news/2018/04/shs-alumni-association-honors-dr-apicella/)
I am so proud to be the recipient of the Salem High School Alumni Association’s Honored Alumnus Award this year. Sitting in this very cafeteria some 35 years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be receiving this honor today.
Graduates, you may be unaware that gatherings of alumni, teachers, and graduating students began more than 100 years ago in Salem in 1882. Past alumni had the foresight to create an alumni association and raise funds to assist students with higher education. Over the past century, the Salem High School Alumni Association has awarded nearly $7M to hundreds of deserving graduates like yourselves. I am grateful to having been awarded a generous scholarship at my high school graduation from the Salem High School Alumni Association, and I am excited to speak to you and help present your scholarships this evening.
My message to you is to try to make a difference in all that you do. There are many ways to accomplish this.
You graduates may recognize me as the host of your career day last year. That is an annual event that I started 17 years ago, working with the Salem Rotary Club, to make a difference for the youth in our community. Inspired by hosting many students interested in medical careers at the hospital, I created this event which utilizes more than 50 professionals from our community to speak about their careers to the benefit of hundreds of Salem High School students.
Do you remember what I said to you that day? I told you that when I have students spend time with me, I like them to consider the difference between a job and a career. I asked if you had ever thought about that distinction. What makes a job? What makes a career? Typically, a job is something you are trained for, you go to work, perhaps 8-5, are paid a salary, come home and go to work the next day. That day, I invited you to think about a career - a calling - a vocation. Something you really might enjoy doing for the next forty years. I told you to put yourselves in the shoes of the professionals speaking with you and see if they might fit.
I hope that the Rotary Career Day made a difference in your life by providing insights into your options for the future and by encouraging you to find your calling. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, once said, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” He said, “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” I invite you to do the same.
I have been very fortunate in my career choice as a physician, but my journey began as a computer geek in 7th grade by building an early computer and learning computer programming on my own. This was the same time Steven Jobs was working in his garage on the Apple computer. Through chance and guidance by my father, a physician, I recognized that a career that combined computers and medicine would be perfect for me. Following these passions in college and medical school led me to a career in radiology. I am now Chief of Medical Imaging at Salem Regional Medical Center. Every day I use advanced medical imaging technology and computers to care for patients, and I have been able to make a difference in this community by diagnosing early cancers and helping prevent strokes and heart attacks. I have seen my patients, their families, and friends benefit from these efforts. When you recognize your passion, follow it where it leads, and you too can find success. Try to use that success to make a difference.
As an example, thanks to my guidance over the past 25 years and with the strong support of our community, I am proud to say that Salem Regional Medical Center has the most advanced imaging technology available. We have the newest and most sensitive computerized breast cancer screening tool which uses 3D mammography and artificial intelligence to identify small cancers at their earliest stage. A few months ago, a woman, similar in age to your mothers’, came for her annual mammogram. The traditional portion of the mammogram that she could have anywhere in the area showed a mass, but was it cancer? The 3D images told me the real story - the mass on the mammogram was not cancer, but there was an unsuspected cancer smaller than a size of a pea nearby. I biopsied the area and made the diagnosis of early breast cancer. Salem Regional Medical Center is the only hospital in the area to offer 3-tesla (3T) MRI, the most advanced MRI available, to all our breast cancer patients. In the other breast, I identified an even smaller cancer. How devastating for the patient to be diagnosed with bilateral breast cancers, but after consultation with our surgeons, cancer specialists, and our new University Hospital affiliation right here in Salem, her care plan was set - one surgery, prompt treatment, and genetic testing to be sure her kids were not at future risk. Had she not had her 3D mammogram in Salem, her main cancer would have grown for at least another year or two before being diagnosed. Had she not had 3T MRI in Salem, the opposite breast cancer would have presented in 3-5 years. Imagine being a breast cancer survivor after all the challenges of treatment only to find out a few years later that you now have another breast cancer. It is so rewarding to know that through my career choice, I made a difference in this person’s life and so many others in our community. With dedication and passion, you too can change people’s lives.
Aside from your career, you can also make a difference by simply volunteering in your community. Every organization needs help, and one of the first organizations to approach me was the Salem Community Center during its design phase. This was in the early days of the internet, and I recognized that my computer skills could assist the organization. I taught myself web design and created their website. I have since created and maintain several local not-for-profit’s websites including the Alumni Association where we have a century of data online including yearbooks, scholarship winners, military and alumni remembrance sections, and even Salem High School band music from the 50-60’s. Over the next week, your scholarship information including pictures will be highlighted, so please visit the website. Volunteering is a fantastic way to make a difference.
I invite you to make a difference throughout your life. Many of you have already started to do so through your accomplishments in high school. Some of you can start tomorrow as the newest high school graduate in your family. If you attend college or take another educational path, make a difference there. Help fellow students; volunteer at the school and in the community. Steve Jobs also said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” You can change the world.
When you start that career, remember your family, friends, and community. Join a local organization like Rotary, Kiwanis, or other not-for-profits, volunteer at your church, help family, friends and strangers. Consider coming back to Salem. We would welcome you with open arms. Work hard in every aspect of your life, and you will be rewarded every day as I am.
Finally, I remember back to the days that I spent in this high school having been known for my computer skills, solving the Rubik’s cube and publishing a book, a true nerd. I invite you to contemplate a quote from Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” Thank you.