In 1968 Dr. Cetrulo came to Taos with the Public Health Service as the Indian Health Services Doctor for the Taos Pueblo. The two year tour was 47 years ago. Since then, he’s been fortunate to call Taos his home, “I’ve lived here all my adult life. I’m phenomenally blessed to live here and to have been able to take care of the people I’ve taken care of.”
“He’s one of Taos’ living treasures, a great guy who really loves his community and the people in the community.” said Dan Thor, Director of Surgical Services. “He’s been committed to providing great care and he’s responsible for saving many lives.”
When Cetrulo finished his two-year tour with the Public Health Service, he attended UCLA in Los Angeles to complete a residency in surgery, but Taos was home. He’d bought his current home in 1969 and has lived in it since. “I’ve always considered that my home,” he said. “When I was a resident, it was intense, and I didn’t get much time off, but I did get some. I would always come home, even if I could only come home for three or four days. Then when I finished my training, I came back. Aside from about a two year stretch when I moved away, I’ve been here ever since.”
“He really had a connection with the people of this community,” said Anna Abeyta, Chief Nursing Officer for Holy Cross Hospital. “I’ve really enjoyed working with him. He’s got a dynamic personality and he was an excellent surgeon - working day and night. He’s performed all kinds of surgeries including general, thoracic and vascular. He did many of the trauma surgeries.”
Dr. Cetrulo’s training was a combined residency in general surgery and cardiovascular surgery. Fortunately for Taos, the training he received encompassed doing pretty much all there was to do. He didn’t do hearts, but he put in pacemakers, he did chest, general, and breast surgeries. He even performed emergency neuro surgeries, “I had a buddy in Albuquerque, Dr. Bob Klebanoff, who was a neurosurgeon and was also a pilot,” said Cetrulo. “He would fly up here and land his airplane in the old Miller’s field. Someone would give him a ride over to the hospital and he’d help me finish the surgical case.”
In 1968 there were only four doctors on the medical staff at Holy Cross Hospital: Ash Pond, Al Rosen, Rey Deveaux, and Stephen Cetrulo. The four doctors took care of everything. It was a little different than things are now, but there were also far fewer people in Taos.
According to Dr. Cetrulo, the old hospital was small and the four doctors basically did everything. Ash Pond, who was the current Dr. Pond’s father, did orthopedic surgery and urology; Cetrulo did general and thoracic surgery; Al Rosen did general surgery and some orthopedics; and, Rey Deveaux was a very talented OB/GYN. “All of them were really impressive people,” said Cetrulo. “And, it was a good thing they were, because, not only did Taos have nowhere to send patients, but there was also no way to send them.”There were some orthopedic surgeons in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, but not many. Albuquerque had a few specialists, including a cardiologist. In those days there weren’t helicopters and the ambulances were operated by the funeral homes. There were two in town and they each had a hearse that doubled as an ambulance. They’d take turns covering the accidents. They would pick people up and take them to the hospital, but they were not EMT’s; they were undertakers.
“We had to do what we had to do in those days,” said Cetrulo. “Especially emergency stuff, when someone wound up in the emergency room that needed surgery, they got it because there wasn’t really an alternative. Sending somebody on an emergency basis to Denver never even crossed anyone’s mind. They would have died before they got there. They’d probably freeze to death in the back of the hearse. This was very, very rural.”
“He brought a consistent surgical presence to this community,” said Dan Thor. “Dr. Cetrulo is a highly trained and skilled surgeon who chose to work in a rural community. I think his love for this community is what kept him here.”
There was a time when he was on call 24/7 and he was the only general surgeon. That set the stage for his entire surgical career until about the last 10 years. “It was pretty intense,” said Cetrulo, “but it was really exciting. It’s a great place to live and great people to take care of. The hospital, even the old hospital, has always taken very good care of the people. We’ve given great care and we have great nurses.”
“He has an amazing ability to draw people in. He really focused his attention on each patient,” said Abeyta. “And, patients felt that personalized care as well as a connection with him. The kids would even ask for the “karate doctor,” because he used to teach Taekwondo.” As New Mexico matured so did the medical services. Over the next 30 plus years Albuquerque gained a new medical school, EMS systems were developed, and eventually even helicopters began transporting patients making it possible to send patients with issues that were difficult to take care of to other facilities. Taos and Holy Cross Hospital also grew. The new facility was built and Taos began attracting more specialists.
Dr. Cetrulo was responsible for getting Holy Cross Hospital its first C-ARM, a medical imaging device that is based on X-ray technology and can be used flexibly in various ORs. It was donated after he saved the life of one of Taos’ famous local artists.He was also instrumental in helping to bring the Life Wings program to the organization. He was friends with Grant Beasley as well as a pilot himself. Not only did he help bring the program to the organization, he was very active in the moving the program forward.
In his spare time he enjoys skiing, wind surfing, piloting, running, and doing work around his house. When asked what he planned to do with all his spare time now that he’d be retired, Dr. Cetrulo said, “Pet my dogs a lot. I have two dogs that I love. My wife, Linda Buckingham, is retiring at the beginning of April. We have a little airstream trailer we’re going to put our dogs in and go drive around and just kind of relax. But mostly not work. I’ve really enjoyed the people. I’ll never forget Anna, Jack Garland, Radiologist Paul Johnson, the people that work in the OR and at Taos Surgical; excellent people, really really good people.”