Ophthalmologist spends time restoring cars

Michael A. DellaVecchia, MD, PhD, makes eyes function properly at work; at home he restores cars, making old engines hum again.

In our society focused on style, Michael A. DellaVecchia, MD, PhD, FACS, thinks about function. The Philadelphia surgeon makes eyes function properly at work; at home he restores cars, making old engines hum again.

Dr. DellaVecchia is director of the emergency department at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia. He teaches and supervises residents in the ED, clinic and surgical suite. Dr. DellaVecchia also maintains a small private practice.

"I was interested in pathology, but missed the patient interaction," said Dr. DellaVecchia, explaining his choice to pursue a career in ophthalmology.

Fixing what's broken

"Growing up, you fixed things that broke," said Dr. DellaVecchia. "You didn't buy new. I was always handy at the house. Then, I studied physics and engineering."

He bought his first car from a fellow student. It was an old Volkswagen purchased for $1. "I kept it alive for a couple years. One day, I hit a pothole on the Schuylkill Expressway and my feet got wet. I knew it was about done."

He next upgraded to a better used car-a 1962 red Jaguar with about 100,000 miles on it. It was the sports car he had always wanted, but initially he felt badly that he had purchased something that wasn't a necessity. "I started fixing it up," he said. Twenty or so years later, he's still fixing up Jaguars and other cars, rebuilding engines and doing further mechanical work.

Currently, Dr. DellaVecchia has five cars, including several Jaguar XKEs from the 1960s and early 1970s, in various stages of repair in the driveway, garage, basement (some redesign work had to be done here), and in storage.

"I learned from an old master mechanic, an artist, that you have one car to work on and one to drive," explained Dr. DellaVecchia. "You swap out the parts that you're working on."

Dr. DellaVecchia creates automotive parts he needs in his own machine shop. He has two lathes, a drill press, various mechanical tools, and design software.