Casanova living good life
By Howell Dennis
CROWLEY – “I’ve gotten every break in life a man could get,” said Dr. Tommy Casanova Sr. from his home on Friday.
Casanova, 86, has led a life that has taken him through WWII, the Korean War, and a serious burn injury. In case one was wondering, he still goes to work nearly every day.
Casanova is definitely a man with a talent for conversation. Though sometimes, he laughed, it can carry over into his work.
“I’ll have a patient come in and it will be someone I’ve know for thirty years. Well I guess I talk with them a bit much and then I’ll hear a banging on my wall from my son, Tommy Jr., in the next office. He’ll say ‘’Dad stop talking and get to work’,” laughed Casanova.
Dr. Casanova, a resident of Crowley since 1953, is the father of five grown children, each of whom he speaks of with great pride, they are Tommy Jr. (of LSU football lore), Jack, Johnny, June, and Susan. He also gives much credit for any success he has had to his late wife June, whose memory is obviously never far from his heart.
“I would never have become the person I am without her influence,” he said. “She has always been there to help me. She was simply a wonderful lady.”
Casanova, who wanted to become a doctor for “as long as he can remember” graduated from high school after only three years.
“I had no idea how I was going to pay for medical school,” he said. “But my mother sat me down one day and said ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do it but we will.”
And they did.
As a pre-med student during WWII, the country needed doctors and chiefs to serve in hospitals in the U.S.
“I was told that I already had enough training to work in a hospital,” he said.
In 1947, Casanova interned at New Orleans Charity Hospital for several years. During this time he met June Voiter, who would become the love of his life. They both were eager to marry but there was one problem.
“We didn’t have any money at the time,” said Casanova. “However, through the money I made through the GI Bill of Rights ($100 per month) combined with the money that she was making at her job, we decided that we could afford to do it.”
They formed a partnership that would last 53 years.
The first few months wasn’t easy as he would travel a couple days each week “by bus or by thumb” to spend the night with his wife who lived who lived somewhat far from his job.
Then he was appointed as the Chief of Head and Neck injuries at Charity Hospital and life became somewhat easier.
“I could take my own calls and was able to see my wife, who had already had our first child Tommy Jr. every night,” said Casanova.
Then the Korean War began.
“I knew I would have to go,” he said. “I was shipped to the 101st Airborne in Camp Breckingridge, then to Japan to serve at Tokyo General for two weeks, then off to Korea.”
Dr. Casanova was appointed the Chief of Head and Neck injuries in his division, a job he says he was well-trained for by his years at Charity Hospital.
“I had already seen some pretty awful stuff in New Orleans,” he said. “If anyone in the 8th Combat Unit they got hurt they would bring them to me . . . if they were too hurt to where they couldn’t be moved, I’d fly down to a MASH unit to help out.”
His experiences in some of these MASH units kept him from watching one of television’s most famous shows.
“When the TV show first came out, one of my kids told me about this funny show on television about a MASH unit,” he said. “I’ve never watched one episode. There is nothing funny about being in a MASH unit. What I remember mostly are doctors working 24-hour shifts and young men dying. I don’t think I could find anything amusing about that.”
“I would always stay with the most seriously injured patients until they were well enough to be moved to better facilities,” added Casanova.
After spending 18 months in Korea, Casanova returned to the United States where he had another decision to make.
“We couldn’t figure out where to live,” he said. “We started out in Gulfport and stayed there for a while but the town had it’s drawbacks. Then we made the decision to move back to Cajun country.”
They made stops in New Iberia, Franklin, Abbeville before discovering Crowley.
“Crowley just seemed so peaceful,” Casanova said. “In those days Crowley was just a rural town which consisted mostly of farmers. I would still travel to other towns if they needed me, but this became our home”
When thinking about his move to Crowley, Casanova seemed to have a small smile on his face.
“There was no hospital here back then,” he said. “There was a small operating room and not much more.”
Then one day his wife spotted a house she liked, Casanova didn’t realize at the time that it would be the home he would spend several years in (he couldn’t recall the exact number) and raise his five children.”
“At first the owner wasn’t selling - period,” he said. “However, it eventually came up for sale. We were the second people to sign up for the home we were pretty nervous about our chances. Then, luckily, the man ahead of us didn’t buy it. We snatched it up as quickly as we could. We built several additions to it over the years.”
Casanova also endured an accident once where he was caught in a propane explosion which would eventually limit his ability to perform surgery. At one point, the doctors told him they didn’t expect him to live.
“It’s strange how things work,” he said. “It seemed as though when my hands got too bad for surgical procedures it coincided with the time that Tommy Jr. began to practice medicine. He literally became my hands after a while.”
Tommy Jr., who played in the NFL for several years, had an arrangement with his coach Paul Brown that it’s fair to say wouldn’t be acceptable to most NFL coaches today.
“Coach Brown would give Tommy Monday and Tuesday off so that he could pursue his medical career,” said Tommy Sr. “He would get his notes from his Wednesday thru Friday classes and would study during his spare time.
“Tommy always said that he would play football until it interfered with his medical studies or it simply wasn’t fun anymore,” said Casanova Sr. “I recall he had some knee injuries and I guess that’s when he decided to make the jump to medicine.”
Casanova definitely isn’t the type of man who would favor any of his children over the other, even is one was a football star that LSU fans will never forget.
“I have five wonderful children who have given me so much love and support since June died,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”
When asked if he could have his picture taken after the interview, Dr. Casanova, declined. His reason:
“It would have to be a picture with June in it,” he said. “She is the reason I’ve been able to achieve everything I have accomplished.”
What a woman she must have been.