Photographed by Vincent Rios
At the age of 9, Joe Gregorio wasn’t just riding dirt bikes. He was
repairing and rebuilding them. By 16 he was rebuilding cars. Hands-on
work came naturally to Joe, who took auto, machine and wood shop classes
at San Pedro High School.
“As kids, we didn’t have cell phones or computers, so we worked
with our hands,” he says.
After high school, Joe attended El Camino College to play football. Shortly
into his first season, he suffered a football injury that sidelined his
sports career. At that point, he decided to follow his passion by enrolling
in trade school at Harbor Occupational. There he learned electrical, motor
control, welding and diesel engine repair skills, among others.
He attended academies for training on specific brands of machinery. Then
he earned his electrical, general building and engineering contracting licenses.
For two years, Joe worked as an engineer and mechanic at the now defunct
DiCarlo’s Bakery, where his dad worked. In 1979 he began working
as a mechanic in the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, performing maintenance
on ship-to-shore cranes—the large cranes used at ports to load and
unload shipping containers.
Working for a company called Rigging International Maintenance Company
(RIMCO), Joe climbed the ranks and eventually managed the firm’s
operations. Eleven years later, in 1991, he left RIMCO to start his own
business, Pacific Crane Maintenance Company.
Based in Long Beach, Pacific Crane today employs about 1,000 people, including
800 longshore personnel. Team members work at multiple marine terminals
maintaining the mechanical equipment used in the ports of Los Angeles
and Long Beach as well as Seattle and Tacoma, Washington.
Joe, now 60, remains hands-on as the company’s chairman and CEO.
A family-run business, Pacific Crane benefits from the participation of
Joe and his wife Laura’s entire clan. Their sons Joe Jr., Andy and
Robert, daughter Jennifer, son-in-law Kyle Clinton and brother-in-law
Darrin DelConte all play important roles within the family-owned business.
“You spend a lot of time with family. Sometimes you get along, and
sometimes you don’t. But for the most part we all enjoy what we
do and look forward to doing it each day,” Joe says. “We do
what it takes to get the work done.”
Despite the stress of running a company, Joe gets great satisfaction from
Pacific Crane’s achievements. “It’s rewarding when your
customer needs a piece of equipment repaired and you and your company
are the ones who can repair it. It’s great to know you were able
to get the equipment up and running so the container boxes continue to
move and ships are unloaded,” he says. “You watch the trade
come in and out of the harbor … and you know you’re part
of that trade’s movement.”
At home Joe enjoys his family. He and Laura met at San Pedro High School
and have been married for 40 years. They devote themselves to their five
grandchildren (ranging in age from 7 to 21), attending their sports events
and various performances.
The Gregorios first came to appreciate Torrance Memorial Medical Center
when their son Robert, then a senior running back at Palos Verdes High
School, broke his ankle during a game. They rushed him to Torrance Memorial.
At that time, executive vice president Laura Schenasi was also a part
of the Palos Verdes High School family, and with her help Robert was able
to move swiftly through the emergency room at Torrance Memorial. Thanks
to her care and concern, the Gregorios decided to explore the opportunity
of joining the Patrons program and soon after became members of the Torrance
“We’ve gotten all our kids to become Patrons as well,”
Laura notes. “It is an outstanding community hospital,” says
Joe. “I’ve been in other community hospitals, and there’s
no comparison. They have good physicians and good administrators, and
it’s just a fabulous place.”
But Joe didn’t always have positive associations with hospitals.
When his dad went to a community hospital years ago for an angiogram,
it was one of the first performed at that location. Joe’s dad had
an allergic reaction to the dye used for the procedure and died almost
instantly. He was 46.
An autopsy showed he had coronary artery disease, so Joe resolved to watch
his own health. He took matters into his own hands, going for regular
tests with his Torrance Memorial cardiologist, Benjamin Rosin, MD. After
Dr. Rosin retired, Christopher Matchison, MD, took over Joe’s care.
Joe underwent annual treadmill tests, EKGs and blood tests, all of which
he passed for 33 years. But there was one test he declined: an angiogram.
In April 2018, Joe felt some stronger than normal indigestion. An endoscopy
test showed no problems. But when the indigestion soon returned, Dr. Matchison
insisted Joe undergo an angiogram. He and Joe’s primary physician,
Lawrence Sher, MD, of Palos Verdes Medical Group, assured Joe that what
happened to his father would not happen to him.
“Within a minute of starting the angiogram, they told me, ‘You’re
not leaving here. You need to be admitted to the hospital and you will
need surgery,’” Joe recalls.
Joe had severe blockages in three arteries that left little more than a
hair’s breadth for blood to circulate. He would need coronary artery
bypass graft (CABG) surgery—an open-heart procedure using healthy
arteries from his chest to create new pathways around the blockages. A
heart-lung machine would pump his blood while his heart was stopped during
Joe was shocked. Although he knew before undergoing the angiogram that
it might reveal coronary artery disease, he didn’t really believe
he would need open- heart surgery—a prospect that had haunted him
since his father’s passing 33 years earlier.
Over the next 24 hours, Joe asked many questions about his surgery and
his postsurgical care. Both Dr. Matchison and surgeon Jack Sun, MD, answered
all of Joe’s and his family’s questions.
Another constant figure was Laura Schenasi, who reassured Joe and his family
and addressed all their questions and concerns. Although this made the
family comfortable and helped relax Joe a bit, he was still not comfortable
with the idea of undergoing open-heart surgery. He was determined to “fix”
the situation another way, as he does with the machines he maintains.
Joe asked Dr. Sun and Dr. Matchison if he could just get a few stents inserted
instead of having the CABG surgery. They explained why that would not
be a good idea and described why surgery made the most sense.
Still, Joe resisted. Dr. Sun and Dr. Matchison then consulted with Michael
Wyman, MD—a heart surgeon operating at Torrance Memorial for years
and one of only a handful of surgeons in the world specializing in stenting
completely blocked arteries. He agreed with the other two physicians,
and the three assured Joe that the CABG surgery was his best option.
Just two days after his fateful angiogram, Joe faced his biggest fear and
underwent CABG surgery with Dr. Sun and his team. The procedure was a
success, allowing Joe to return to his CEO duties and, more importantly,
return to his family with a second chance at life.
He has since adopted a regular workout routine consisting of 30 to 60 minutes
of cardio daily and lifting weights three times a week. Joe feels better
now than he did before the procedure. “I have more energy, and I
no longer need asthma or blood pressure medications,” he says.
“The staff was fantastic, and my care was off the charts,”
Joe continues. “Dr. Sun and Dr. Matchison explained everything thoroughly
and were really on their game. They looked in on me and so did some of
my other Torrance Memorial physicians. Many have become my friends. I
can’t speak highly enough about them.”
Joe mentioned others who were important to him and his successful operation:
Anthony Rasic, MD, his anesthesiologists and his friend Dottie Rudinica
(who also works in cardiology). Dr. Rasic helped him recover after his
surgery, checking on him frequently before Joe was discharged and making
himself available for any concerns after Joe returned home from the hospital.
The anesthesiologists who worked with Joe were calm and confident, which
helped him relax. Dottie constantly checked on Joe and ensured he was
comfortable pre- and post-op. She reassured him he was in the best hands
possible with Dr. Sun.
All involved had an extremely positive impact on Joe’s experience,
making the operation and his recovery. He recalls that when he was told
he needed open-heart surgery, he wondered if having it done at a community
hospital was the best choice.
Joe asked, “Am I in the right place?” His doctors assured him
he was, and Joe agrees. “If I ever were to get into medical troubles
anywhere else, I’d do whatever I could to get myself back to Torrance
Joe and Laura credit the Lundquist Lurie Cardiovascular Institute for saving
his life. To express their gratitude, the couple hosted a dinner at their
Rolling Hills home in February to raise funds for the Institute.