Longtime pediatrician ready for next step

Dr. Joseph D’Cruz has moved on to the next phase of his life.

D’Cruz, 69, retired June 30 from Pediatric Healthcare Associates, the practice he founded in 1978 with longtime partner. Dr. Mohamad Moussa.

D’Cruz said it was time to move on to other things.

“My children live out of own. I have two grandkids and another on the way. I would like to spend more time with my family. I want to pursue other hobbies and interests. I want to do some social service and volunteer work as well,” D’Cruz said. “I can tell you I am not going to be sitting in the backyard watching the grass grow.”

D’Cruz was born in Kenya and spent the first 10 years of his life in the African country.

He had a career path plan from a young age.

“I was always interested in the practice of medicine from an early age. During my college days, I chose my subjects based on that career path.

I was a socially minded person and did a lot of public service. The science of it interested me, and I also liked children,” D’Cruz said. “I knew from the start I wanted to be a pediatrician.”

He graduated from St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore, India, in 1969. He did a residency and an internship in India before coming to the United States in 1971 to do a residency at Altoona Hospital.

He completed his pediatric residency at the College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey from 1972 to 1974 where also completed a fellowship in neonatology.

He returned to Altoona in 1975 to work for Dr. Hugo DiGiacobbe, a local pediatrician.

“He was my mentor, and he treated me like his son. He guided me. He helped me assimilate myself in the community, he helped me find a house,” D’Cruz said. “He taught me the nuances of a private practice and helped me develop my people skills.”

D’Cruz met Moussa when he joined the then DiGiacobbe and D’Cruz.

In 1978, the office of D’Cruz and Moussa was formed and moved from downtown Altoona to a new building at 615 Sixth Ave. in 1978.

Dr. Saytha Aswathappa joined the practice in 1996 which was renamed Pediatric Healthcare Associates in 1998. Since then, the practice expanded to include six board-certified pediatricians.

The practice has changed over the years, D’Cruz said.

“We have grown in volume. Dr. Moussa and I were on call every other day. When one of us was on vacation, the other would sweat bullets,” D’Cruz said.

The way doctors interact with parents also has changed.

“In the older days, the practice was more dogmatic. You gave the parent a prescription and said here is what you do, give the medicine at a certain time,” D’Cruz said. “It has become more informative with parents. We discuss the treatment, and the parent understands what we are doing and why we are doing it and the outcomes are much better. There is much more communication today between the doctors and the parents.”

The technology age also has changed the practice.

“All records are computerized. We don’t have paper charts any more. The transition at the beginning was difficult. Now that we have entered the technology age, we are doing much better,” D’Cruz said.

Moussa said D’Cruz will be missed.

“His perky cheerful voice every morning will be greatly missed by all of us in the office,” Moussa said. “He is much more than a partner; he has been a friend and brother for 35 plus years. Thirty-five years together is unheard of. We really have a great relationship built on caring, devotion, dedication and trust. That is the formula for our long-term relationship. I hope that will continue. We’ve been through a lot together.”

Jerry Murray, UPMC Altoona president, called D’Cruz an exceptional physician.

“He was my son’s pediatrician, and he is 20. My son still talks about him. He is an exceptional doctor and has a great patient-physician relationship. He has been an active member of the medical staff, and what he has done for patient care has been exceptional,” Murray said. “He is easy to talk with and has always had the community’s best interests in mind.”

D’Cruz admits it was a tough decision to retire.

“It was not easy. I definitely will miss the kids, and I like the fixed daily routine. I am grateful to the local community for affording me the privilege to take care of their children for the past 38 years. I have watched many of them grow up to be upstanding citizens, and I am proud of their achievements,” D’Cruz said. “I hope I am remembered as a guy who had a good time doing what he was doing and someone who made a difference.”

D’Cruz said he is leaving the practice in good hands.

“We feel we are members of the community and feel we owe it to the community to take care of their children,” D’Cruz said. “My partners share the same philosophy, and I knew if I would leave the practice in their hands it would continue the way we have started and the way we have grown. That is why I am not hesitant in just walking away. The guys will carry on the philosophy and tradition that we had established.”