Story of Dick Virgilio, long-time Point Loma resident, told in ‘Strong In, Strong Out’
Published - 05/22/19 - 08:05 AM | 4004 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dick Virgilio is known today as the father of trauma care in San Diego County. In his new biography, “Strong In, Strong Out,” you’ll shake your head in wonder at how he managed to survive his early childhood on the brutal outskirts of 1950s Baltimore, with a mean and dysfunctional father and a bullying brother.

His solution? Run away from home in the middle of the night and hitchhike across country. He was only 13, and all he had was $3.75 and a couple of T-shirts.

Somehow the young Virgilio fought his way through military school and into medical school. He was hiding a secret, severe dyslexia, but he learned to memorize his medical studies and graduated at the top of his class.

Along the way he worked for an Italian “family” that found him face to face with Nat King Cole, Bobby Darrin and others. Before long, Dick was whisked off to Vietnam as a trauma surgeon, working on the front lines.

His young family continued to grow but so did Dick’s frustration at the lack of trauma care in San Diego.

Tired of seeing military men and women die from a lack of timely care, he led the charge to create a trauma system in San Diego County, which in turn, became a model program on a national level.

It wasn’t easy, and he lost friends along the way. But looking back, Dick’s dedication to his craft made a real difference. His new trauma system has saved thousands of lives.

Battling extreme heart issues, he decided to learn to sail. That’s where the fun entered his life, as he found himself involved in more situations than a Marx Brothers comedy could do justice to.

“Yachting and sailing changed my life at a critical time,” says Virgilio, who soon became commodore at San Diego Yacht Club. “In fact, being a part of the SDYC family has been a real blessing in my life, and that of my family. It’s home here.”

Dick’s story reminds us that it’s not just the cards you are dealt that dictate your fortunes, but how you play them.

This is the story of Virgilio – doctor, family man, sailor and friend. You decide whether his life has been a survival story, or a race to beat the clock. Whatever your conclusion, this honest and self-deprecating story of Virgilio will resonate with you for years to come.

The book, written by San Diego writer and historian Joe Ditler, is available at Seabreeze Books, Ltd., 1254 Scott St. 619-223-8989, [email protected] It sells for $19 on Amazon Prime. “Strong In, Strong Out,” is hard cover and 251 pages.

Ditler is an international waterfront reporter, author and San Diego historian. He formerly worked as a writer for the Los Angeles Times, and was bureau chief at The Log Newspapers. His stories have appeared in Wooden Boat, Nautical Quarterly, San Diego Magazine, The Reader, San Diego Home/Garden & Lifestyles, and many others. He was second in command at the San Diego Maritime Museum for 12 years and helped organize numerous Cabrillo Festivals, as well as Cabrillo’s “discovering” San Diego and landing at Ballast Point.
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