… And a little child shall lead them.
Michael and Camille Geraldi met in the gastroenterology ward of Miami Children’s Hospital in 1972. He was a pediatrician, she was a nurse who was cradling a terminally ill infant in Room 238.
She dreamed of caring for sick and unwanted children ever since she was a child. He loved his patients like family.
Click here to read the original story about how the Geraldis met
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“We both had such a tremendous fondness with the children. Being able to help them, that’s what drew us together,” Michael Geraldi said in a 1991 Miami Herald feature. The two married in 1975.
When the story was written, the Falls-area couple had two biological daughters, Renae and Jaclyn, and, since the first adoption in 1986, 17 adopted children who had Down syndrome, Zellwegger syndrome, cranio-facial deformations, developmental disabilities, autism, injuries and other critical disorders.
Upon Michael Geraldi’s death from mesothelioma cancer on March 8, a day after his 73rd birthday, the couple had adopted, or became full legal guardians, of 88 children over the years. Thirty-one have survived. The youngest is 7.
In 1987, the couple founded the nonprofit The Up With Down Syndrome Foundation to meet the special needs of children. Now renamed the Possible Dream Foundation, the organization offers job training for disabled adults, counseling and aid for parents of special needs children.
“I’ve never met a more caring individual. He never turned any patient away. He was one of those doctors who still made house calls,” said Teresa Van Zee, Possible Dreams’ administrative assistant.
Indeed, “he loved his practice as much as he loved his family,” said his wife, Camille, who was honored as one of the nation’s “points of light” by President George H.W. Bush. “He really was a caring person. He loved us both the same and I understood that. We met in the middle and it’s been a fantastic life. I couldn’t have asked for it to be better.”
He never wanted to leave his patients unattended… he is the one doctor that always returned a phone call and wouldn’t go to bed until every single patient called back.
Camille Geraldi on her husband Dr. Michael Geraldi
The couple, who celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last year, were scheduled to take a vacation in April, a cruise to Cancún with a stop in Haiti. The vacation would have been their first.
“He never wanted to leave his patients unattended and what I’m seeing the most, from the thousands of texts, is he is the one doctor that always returned a phone call and wouldn’t go to bed until every single patient called back,” his wife said on Wednesday. “I’ve known that since the day I met him.”
As their family grew, the Geraldis knew challenges beyond the expected baskets of laundry to be done daily — still six to eight loads per day. They weathered the loss of the three homes they used to care for their children, then 22, in Hurricane Andrew in August 1992. Geraldi’s pediatric practice was near the devastated Country Walk community in West Kendall. Four years later, they were driven to North Carolina when publicity led hostile cranks to vandalize their adjoining Kendall-area homes and to send anonymous threats. The North Carolina home burned down.
In more recent years, the couple maintained two homes and traveled back and forth to his in Miami-Dade and hers in Ellijay, Georgia. The ailing Geraldi spent his last moments with his wife at the Georgia home.
Geraldi worked at his Kendall-area practice up to a month before his death until his cancer treatments weakened him too much. “He wanted to keep it going. Letting go of it all was very difficult for him,” his wife said.
Born March 7, 1943, in Forest Hills, New York, Geraldi studied medicine at New York University and Columbia University and earned his medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
Geraldi was a mentor for Barry University’s and Florida International University’s nurse practitioner programs. Above all, he was a family man.
“Michael allowed me to follow my dream,” Camille Geraldi said. “Taking care of all those children is just a normal day.”
A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Miami Vineyard Community Church, 12725 SW 122nd Ave. Volunteers are putting on a fundraiser auction from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 3 at Learning Links School, 14515 SW 120th St., Miami to benefit the children and adults with special needs adopted by the Geraldis and Possible Dream Foundation. Call 786-459-5808 or 786-525-5596.