Roberto Stella, Regional Doctor with a National Presence, Dies at 67

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

In early March, Dr. Roberto Stella, a general practitioner in a town near Milan, told a colleague that the medical staff at his practice had run out of face masks and gloves.

“We’re not stopping,” he said. “We’re being careful and pressing on.”

Dr. Stella died on March 11, the first doctor known to have succumbed to the virus in Italy, Dr. Marco Cambielli, a colleague, said. “The first of many,” he added. Dr. Stella was 67.

Dr. Stella lived in Busto Arsizio, 20 miles northwest of Milan in Lombardy, the Italian region that has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus. His death made headlines and was a grim reminder that health care workers are among those at greatest risk. At least 66 Italian doctors have died of the virus through March, and thousands of health care workers have been infected.

“Busto salutes you and above all thanks you; your example won’t be forgotten,” Mayor Emanuele Antonelli wrote that day on his Facebook page. The post received more than 300 comments, many from patients praising Dr. Stella’s bedside manner.

Dr. Stella was born in Busto on July 22, 1952, graduated from medical school in 1978 and began practicing there. He also specialized in hematology.

For nearly 30 years, Dr. Stella held elected positions with the Italian National Federation of the Associations of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists, at both a local and a national level. For the national organization, he was responsible for the medical training and continuing medical education division. He sat on the boards of various national medical associations, was president of the Italian Scientific Society for Continuing Medical Education of General Practitioners and served as an expert to Italy’s government advisory board on health issues.

“When you’ve held various positions for many years, you leave an even bigger void,” Dr. Cambielli said.

With Dr. Stella’s death, the Italian health system lost a “point of reference,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.

He is survived by his wife, Daniela, and two sons.

Dr. Stella’s last publication for The BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal, was a co-written article published on March 16 presenting an e-learning course on Covid-19 that had been made available to Italian doctors “a few hours after the confirmation of the first case of local transmission in Italy.”

“He was a real doctor,” said Dr. Alessandro Colombo, another colleague and friend. “He worked until the end.”

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