Dr. Linda A. Parenti — who became an obstetrician/gynecologist at a time when Akron had few females in the profession — has had a “mostly joyful career,” delivering upward of 4,500 babies. That’s between 100 and 200 a year.
So Parenti’s decision to retire, to walk away from something she dearly loves, is bittersweet.
But retire she must, after 37 years and one month on the job.
“I was hoping for a couple of more years. I wanted it to be more on my terms,” she lamented during a recent interview.
Oh, she still has the heart for it. Always will, she insists. Just no longer the shoulder.
Apparently the repetitive motion associated with years of doing pelvic exams and delivering babies finally caught up with her, creating brutal pain.
The problem got much worse last year. “I had it X-rayed and was told, ‘You’ve got an old shoulder,’ ” the 67-year-old said. “It’s bone on bone.”
There is a cure, a total shoulder replacement. That’s just not something Parenti is considering right now.
Instead she’s opted to do something far less invasive: rest her shoulder. “I’m just going to see what happens. Not doing anything that could make it worse,” she said, hoping that will put off the inevitable.
But the North Hill native — a product of Akron’s Findley Elementary, Jennings Junior High and North High schools — won’t be turning her back on medicine entirely. She plans to do some “supervisory” work with residents, teaching and clinics.
Parenti — the oldest of six — said she knew from the time she was 8 years old that she wanted to be a doctor, initially inspired by an article in Coronet, a now-defunct general-interest magazine. “It was about Dr. Pygmalion, a reconstructive surgeon during World War II who was dealing with war injuries and burns. So I decided I was going to be a plastic surgeon,” she said, sifting through old times.
It was a lofty dream at a time when girls who went to college mostly pursued teaching or nursing careers. Parenti cut her own path, albeit at times a lonely one, working hard to keep that dream alive. She was valedictorian of North High’s class of ’64 and the school’s first National Merit Scholar. She majored in biology and minored in chemistry at the University of Akron, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1968. She went on to attend the Ohio State University College of Medicine, where she was one of eight women in a 1972 graduating class of 142.
“I thought about going into pediatrics and I also thought about family medicine like [television’s] Marcus Welby,” recalled Parenti — she with the short, spiky hairdo.
“At the end of my junior year when I did my first delivery it was like an epiphany. I’m home! … From then on it’s been like that old saying, ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’ ”
That’s not to say she’s always vaulted out of bed at 3 in the morning when duty called, especially after the age of 55.
But she knew what she had signed up for. Her husband, Thomas A. Pinto— a retired middle school teacher and administrator — knew it, too, but never complained, even when they became parents.
“He’s put up with a lot of craziness in the middle of the night,” she said. “I love the Pinto name but I had to stick with Parenti, the name that supported me in those early years.”
During her final full week on the job, Parenti’s patients turned the tables on the good doctor, making “deliveries” to her: flowers and plants, candles, scarves and bottles of wine. “I had one patient bring me lunch — olive and Asiago salad and pizzelles — from DeVitis [Italian Market]. Something from the Hill!”
Akron’s Katika Foster-Brandon has been a patient of Parenti’s for over 35 years: “I was in my 20s, needed a gynecologist and I wanted a woman,” Foster-Brandon reminisced. “Someone referred me to Dr. Parenti. It’s always been a good fit. … I found her to be down to earth, no-nonsense but caring.
“I’ve always felt confident in her abilities,” Foster-Brandon continued. “Over the years I’ve had some pretty serious health issues, a bout with cancer and other things, and she was always there for me, a real source of encouragement when I needed it. I hope I was the same for her …
“I was under her care with my first child but she was in the process of getting married. By the time I went into labor she was on her honeymoon and wasn’t able to deliver our son. But she did deliver our daughter 3½ years later … We’re not personal friends but we’ve chatted about our families and the seasons of life we were in at the time. … After our daughter became an adult and got married, she started going to her. Dr. Parenti delivered her first baby 3½ years ago, the second and a set of twins just five months ago.”
“I hate to see her go,” Foster-Brandon added. “But I pray for her and ask God to bless her on this new avenue.”
The 19-year breast cancer survivor was honored by the Susan G. Komen-BMW Ultimate Drive as a local hero for using her profession to raise awareness among her patients and the community about the disease.
Among her many professional accolades: She was the first female physician to complete the OB-GYN program at Akron City Hospital, graduating in 1976; a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology; a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; the longest-serving OB-GYN at the Adolescent Clinic at Akron Children’s Hospital (over 20 years); and received the Outstanding Volunteer Faculty Award from NEOUCOM in 2004.
Parenti won’t have any trouble finding things to do in her retirement.
Her daughter, Elissa Pinto Rathbun, of Winston-Salem, N.C. — who turns 32 the day after her mother’s Wednesday retirement — has made her a grandmother. Her 27-year-old son, Thomas C. Pinto, is an elementary school teacher.
She’s an avid reader of mostly science fiction and mysteries, sometimes romance mysteries. She also crochets and does counted cross-stitch. And she’s a huge fan of the Cleveland Browns and Indians and the Akron Aeros.
Although she’s bowing out from her profession sooner than she had hoped, Parenti is leaving it so much better than she found it.
During those early years she slept at City Hospital’s former School of Nursing because there was no place at the hospital for female doctors, not even a women’s locker room. Fortunately that all changed over time, and the landscape would become even more pregnant with possibilities.
Consider this one. For the last several years, Dr. Linda A. Parenti has been part of an all-female practice — OBGYN Associates — that includes Lisa Cousineau, Cecilia A. Ellis, Maura K. O’Shea and Nancy J. McGrievy.
She’s shouldered a lot over the years and has more than earned the rest.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org