Patient Spotlight: Vito Grippo

A Life That Sparkles After Proton Therapy

Never did Vito and Suellen Grippo imagine that a loose gemstone in Suellen’s wedding ring would end up saving Vito’s life - twice. But, a chance encounter with a jeweler who was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute did just that.

Vito and Suellen Grippo
Vito and Suellen Grippo

Vito and Suellen live in Myrtle Beach, SC, but Vito had business interests on the east coast of Florida and the couple traveled there several times a year. During one of their visits, Suellen noticed the loose gemstone. “I called a local jeweler and asked if he could repair the ring,” Suellen recalled. “He told me that he could but that I would have to wait a while, as he was traveling more than two hours each way, each day, for prostate cancer treatment. I was surprised to hear that he was willing to travel so far, and asked him where he was being treated. He told me he was going to the proton therapy institute in Jacksonville that was run by UF.”

Suellen didn’t give the information much thought until Vito was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November of 2014. But the jeweler’s detail about proton therapy, along with anecdotal accounts from acquaintances who were also undergoing treatment at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute and other proton therapy centers quickly convinced the Grippos that they should investigate it for Vito’s treatment as well.

“My urologist wasn’t for it,” Vito says. “He said it was experimental, and wanted to treat me with a more standard approach. But, I wasn’t a candidate for robotic surgery for a number of reasons. When I talked to UF Health, they told me they could help.”

Vito had six weeks of proton therapy treatment and came through it with flying colors. The Grippos were surprised not only at how rapidly Vito was able to bounce back, but at the extraordinary support network evident at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute as well. “Everyone was amazing,” Suellen noted. “Not only the doctors, nurses and staff, but the other patients as well. You found yourself forming a support group that resulted in strong friendships. We still see many fellow patients, both at the reunions and socially.”

Vito and Suellen would need that support again, after Vito was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2017. The diagnosis was startling – a sudden lump in his neck and a sore throat had devastating consequences. Again, their family physician recommended radical treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Vito turned to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute for their opinion. “They told me I would have to have the surgery, there was no avoiding it,” Vito says. “And, this time the treatment was going to be much harder.”

Vito’s new cancer had affected his throat, voice box, and tongue. A neck dissection – a surgical procedure designed to remove most of the affected area – led doctors to warn Vito that he might never be able to speak normally again. And, the radiation therapy would affect his ability to salivate and swallow, which brought about dramatic weight loss. The effect of the therapy was cumulative, meaning that Vito felt his worst as treatment was ending.

Today, Vito Grippo is not only speaking and eating, he is thriving, thanks to daily workouts and an exceptional support system that includes Suellen and the entire team at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. The Grippos remain deeply grateful for the treatment Vito received for both diagnoses, and decided that there was no more powerful way to express their thanks than to provide support in return. Their recent decision to leave their entire estate to UF Health Proton Therapy Institute will help ensure that the life-saving treatment offered here can continue. Vito explains their commitment to UF Health in simple but profound terms. “They saved my life,” he says. “There’s no better reason to give back than that.”


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