Michele Lynn Lombardo was born in Middletown, CT on October 23, 1974 to Richard S. Lombardo and Phyllis (Salafia) Lombardo. She was the youngest of three, behind Antoinette (Lombardo) Ryan by 12 and Richard J. Lombardo by ten years.
Michele grew up in Higganum, CT. As she grew, she became Toni’s small enchanting companion and was beneficiary of Rich’s generosity and wit. She learned from Phyllis about the power of creativity and imagination, as well as an appreciation for cooking and baking. Michele was her father’s daughter in so many ways, evincing his tenacity and keen intellect from an early age. She first met Joseph M. Onofrio while attending Haddam-Killingworth Middle School. At Haddam-Killingworth Regional High School, Michele played in the school band, was on the swim team, and was a member of the honor society. During their junior year, Joe nicknamed her “Mitch.” They matched in their senses of humor, philosophies, and mutual respect. “Joe & Mitch” became a couple on August 8, 1991 and remained an inseparable team thereafter, sharing in many adventures together.
From an early age, Michele wanted nothing more than to become a physician and remained focused on that achieving that goal. In the summer after graduating from H-K, she worked at the local Red Cross office. In the fall of 1992, she began her undergraduate studies at Simons College in Boston, MA, where she excelled in her chosen major of Biochemistry. During the summer following her freshman year, Michele worked in a surgical office in Middletown, CT and was inspired deeply by many, including Dr. Kristen Zarfos and Dr. Joseph Bardenheier.
While an undergraduate student, Michele worked as a Research Assistant in the microbiology and molecular genetics laboratory of Dr. Roberto Kolter at Harvard Medical School. She received the American Institute of Chemistry Award in Biochemistry and the Sigma Xi Associate Member Award upon graduation. After Simmons, Michele joined the Harvard Medical School Department of Experimental Pathology laboratory of Dr. Luisa Iruela-Arispe and was involved in angiogenesis (cancer) research that lead to several peer-reviewed publications. When the lab relocated to UCLA, Michele joined the Massachusetts Teratogen Information Service as an Information Specialist providing information and guidance to pregnant women and medical professionals. She eventually became Patient Coordinator at The National Birth Defects Center (now the Feingold Center for Children) in Waltham, MA. At NBDC, she worked with and was influenced by Dr. Murray Feingold and his exceptional team of skilled and caring professionals.
After a seemingly infinite engagement, Joe & Mitch were married at the Goodwin Hotel in Hartford, CT on August 8, 1998 at a ceremony officiated by Joe’s father that included the couple’s parents and siblings. Sharing kindness, a desire to enrich the lives of others, and never ones to shy away from a challenge, less than four months after their nuptials, Michele and Joe assumed the role of houseparents at one of Concord-Assabet Family and Adolescent Services’ family model group homes located in Concord, MA. There, they provided care and support for four teenage boys at a time who were involved with the child welfare, juvenile justice, or mental health systems.
Michele began her formal medical training at the Boston University School of Medicine in 2000. During this time she began to consider what areas of medicine were of interest (and not!). To her surprise, she honored in psychiatry (among other areas); however, it soon became evident that she was destined to be a surgeon.
At the onset of a five-year residency in General Surgery at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Michele and Joe purchased a house in Cranston, RI. Dr. Lombardo, who soon became known within certain circles as “The Four Foot Surgeon” (a/k/a “T4FS”), due to her stature (which she optimistically claimed to be five feet). Michele soon began hosting an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the other surgery residents in that home and helped to create many fond memories and lasting friendships. During her fourth year of residency, Michele received the Thompson Scholarship for Surgical Study in Kenya. In Kenya, Michele provided care to patients in rural areas of the country and within the most spare of medical environments. The work of Dr. Russell White and his colleagues and the kind, gracious, and courageous nature of even the most ill patients left a lasting impression on her. The experience in Kenya also incidentally afforded Joe the opportunity to watch her up close in the operating theater. Dr. Lombardo was appointed Executive Chief Resident for her final year of residency. As the end of her residency approached, she came to embrace the idea of what may have seemed the obvious choice to many: Pediatric Surgery. Michele was also the recipient of the Resident Teaching Award, Dean’s Teaching Excellence Award, Brian A. Dorman Surgical Education Award, and Alpha Omega Alpha Resident Award.
Dr. Lombardo was fortunate to further deepen her professional and personal relationships with her colleagues and attendings within the Brown community after matching there for a two-year pediatric surgery fellowship in 2009. She was appreciative of the mentorship and mutual respect of Drs. William Cioffi, Jr., David Harrington, Thomas Tracy, Jr., Arlet Kurkchubasche, Francois Luks, Christopher Muratore, Jeremy Aidlen and so many more. During her fellowship, Michele had several more collaborative research articles published and enjoyed the opportunity to present nationally and internationally. Prior to the completion of her training, she received the prestigious Haffenreffer House Staff Excellence Award for demonstrating exceptional qualities in clinical service, professionalism, leadership and scholarly activity.
When Dr. Lombardo first interviewed at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, she knew that CHKD was a perfect fit. There was nowhere else that she wanted to practice more and Hampton Roads was where she wanted to raise a family. She was especially proud to become a partner in the practice established by Dr. Donald Nuss and to have the opportunity to collaborate with him. Dr. Lombardo appreciated a practice wherein she could be a true general surgeon, as well as specialize in the treatment of chest wall deformities. Working with her partners and colleagues within the Children’s Surgical Specialty Group and the Nuss Center brought her tremendous joy. Dr. Lombardo had so many close working relationships and friendships within and around the CHKD community it proves especially difficult to include everyone. Throughout her all too brief tenure, Dr. Lombardo and Joe considered everyone at CHKD part of their extended family.
Dr. Lombardo was board certified in both general and pediatric surgery and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and American Pediatric Surgical Association. She was an Assistant Professor of Surgery and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Eastern Virginia School of Medicine, an Advanced Trauma Life Support Instructor, an active member of various committees at CHKD, and member of numerous professional organizations including the International Pediatric Endosurgery Group, American Medical Association, Medical Society of Virginia, Tidewater Pediatric Society, and Chest Wall International Group. Dr. Lombardo was elected by her peers for recognition in Coastal Virginia Magazine as a “Top Doc” in 2015 and 2016.
The only thing that gave her greater pride or pleasure than treating patients and helping their families was becoming a mother. In 2013 she gave birth to a beautiful son, J. Murray Onofrio. Despite the demands of life as a surgeon, Michele always found extra time and energy to read, cook, play, sing, swim, and travel with Murray.
In May 2015 Michele received an initial diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. She sought to manage the disease as a chronic illness and persevered to continue full-time as a pediatric surgeon to the amazement of her family, colleagues and treatment providers. Michele managed with great fortitude, focus, and grace to fulfill her responsibilities as a mom to Murray, partner to Joe, and as a consummate medical professional, all the while receiving weekly chemotherapy and enduring the ever-increasing effects of the disease and those treatments. Michele frequently demonstrated her ability to make lemons into lemonade through her endless supply of humor. For Halloween 2015, she poked fun at her height and newly acquired bald head by painting herself green and becoming Yoda – an appropriate character whose diminutive size only emphasized further the self control and powerful abilities contained within. Even when Michele was unable to be physically comfortable or otherwise find relief, she would put on a smile and go to work, help a friend, or even engage in an elaborate light saber dual with Murray. True to her character, she never once complained of her situation or discomfort. Michele had the option to go anywhere in the world for treatment and certainly accessed an extensive network of friends and colleagues for their input, but she remained steadfast about who she wanted leading her treatment: Dr. Amy Skorupa. Dr. Skorupa and everyone at Cancer Specialists of Tidewater continually demonstrated the utmost expertise, skill, humility, and empathy in every moment of Michele’s journey with cancer. Following her diagnosis, Michele derived from and lent support to an online subgroup of physician mothers with cancer. She was comforted by her involvement in that exceptional community and proud to have gained the friendship and respect of those warriors.
On Monday, January 9, 2017 in the aftermath of an unusual snowstorm that suspended the functioning of the region, Dr. Lombardo went to work (even though no patients showed that day). She anticipated going to work the following day; however, when she arose that morning she experienced a sudden and rapid decline. Her emphatic last words to Joe in the hospital were “love you guys!” In Michele’s final days she was in her home surrounded by family, the sounds of her favorite eclectic music, of laughter and of Murray’s playful chatter. She died peacefully on the morning of Sunday, January 15, 2017, with Joe by her side.
Michele was so many things to so many people and in her short but full and rich life, she was able to accomplish so much and leave such a positive and remarkable impact. The gift of her joyful presence in so many of lives, including those whom she touched with her dedication and talents as a surgeon and educator, remains her legacy. During the last two years, she demonstrated fully the essence of the person we knew her to be — smart, capable, determined, selfless, strong, humorous and loving. She left us all in a way that, even in the depths of our sadness, we can still find strength in her strength, knowing we are going to be ok because she was ok. She intuitively knew how to make things easier for those she would leave. Michele did not want any of us to cry when she left, but rather smile and share a laugh because we knew her.
In the months since Michele’s passing there have been numerous expressions in remembrance of her life and legacy: many have shared their condolences, relayed humorous and inspiring memories, extended their support and given generously in her honor; well-attended celebrations were held at CHKD and at Water’s Edge Resort and Spa in Westbrook, CT; a piece, “I want to do this as long as I can”, ran on the front page of the Virginian-Pilot; East Beach Peninsula Life published a tribute article for Mother’s Day; neighbors organized and funded the installation of a memorial bench overlooking a park frequented by Murray and Joe; Dr. Lombardo was unanimously nominated by the general surgery residents and posthumously honored with the 2016-2017 Eastern Virginia Medical School Surgery Community Faculty Award; and the Department of Surgery at Brown University re-named its annual Award for Surgical Resident Excellence after her. Although Michele would have undoubtedly demurred from any such attention, it serves as a reflection of the spirit that she so enthusiastically shared with all whom she came in contact. She would have been contented with the knowledge that in some small way it all lessens our sorrow in her much felt absence.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to CHKD and/or a fund established for Murray is invited to do so at:
J. Murray Onofrio
Please make checks payable to “Joseph Murray Onofrio” and send to:
c/o Joey Weinberg, SunTrust PWM,
150 W Main St, Ste 1400, Norfolk VA 23510
Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters
Online: Support CHKD
Telephone: (757) 668-7070
Mail: PO Box 21566, Norfolk VA 23518-2156