You could say that Anthony Sarno Sr. is following in the footsteps of his son.
At age 48, he enrolled in the Rutgers School of Health Related Professions, where Anthony Sarno Jr. is pursuing a career in nuclear medicine technology.
Sarno Sr., of West Deptford, is studying at the school’s Stratford location to become a respiratory therapist after years of working as a stonemason, like his own father.
Two years ago, when his son was an undergraduate at Rutgers majoring in biology, Sarno Sr.’s childhood passion for science was rekindled and he decided to attend Gloucester County College for an associate degree in science. “He got interested in what I was doing and he wanted to make a career change,’’ says Sarno Jr., 24, who attends the Scotch Plains location of the School of Health Related Professions. “I was pretty shocked. He’d been in construction all his life.’’
These days, the two talk about term papers, course loads and lessons they’re learning in class. “I’ll ask him a lot of questions. My wife thinks we’re crazy because we debate biology at the dinner table,’’ says Sarno Sr., who enrolled in the respiratory therapy program in September.
Since the 1980s, Sarno Sr. has worked as a mason. One of the greatest occupational hazards of the trade is the lung disease silicosis, and Sarno Sr. has seen the suffering it causes firsthand. “Some of my family members have had it, and for as long as I’ve been in construction I’ve always advocated for respirators and lung care,’’ he says. “I told the guys on the crew, ‘watch out, be careful.’’’ As a respiratory therapist, he’ll help diagnose, treat and offer preventive care for patients with heart and lung disorders.
Growing up Sarno Sr. loved science and math, but after high school he took up this father's profession and started his own masonry business. At 23, he got married and had his son a year later. Although masonry wasn’t Sarno Sr.’s ideal profession, he made a good living to support his family and wasn’t unhappy with the job.
But it wasn’t a path he wanted for Sarno Jr. and his daughter, Gabrielle, a genetics major at Rowan University. “He always let us know school is the number one priority,’’ says Sarno Jr., who enrolled in the nuclear science program in the fall. “I happened to fall into biology when I was in college, and he always supported that.”
Sarno Sr. nagged his children about their homework and gave frequent lectures about the importance of education. “I talked to them about science and took them to science museums,’’ he recalls.
He brought Sarno Jr. to work with him so he could see what a grueling job stonemasonry could be. But he also taught him some basic skills. “I wanted him to be the only doctor who could do his own brick steps,’’ says Sarno Sr, with a laugh.
He coined a saying and had it engraved on a plaque for Sarno Jr. after he graduated: “Through education our yolk is eased though not abolished.''
When it was time for his son to choose a college, he encouraged Sarno Jr. to attend Rutgers because of the reputation of its biology and premed programs.
After graduating from Rutgers with a degree in biology, Sarno Jr. decided to earn a second bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine because it combined his love of physics and his desire to help others. The field involves using radioactive chemicals to provide diagnostic images and other information.
Although he and his father are pursuing different professions, the experience of attending Rutgers simultaneously has deepened their bond, says Sarno Jr. “We definitely have something in common because we’re going through it together,’’ he says.
His dad isn’t above asking him for help in calculus, and when pressed, Sarno Sr. will admit that his son has a higher GPA than he does. But Sarno Jr. doesn’t gloat.
“My dad hasn’t been to school in 20 years and when he started I wasn’t sure how he would do, but he really caught on," he says. “I’m proud of him.’’