Making it his business to help

Making it his business to help

BY JESSICA BARTLETT
jbartlett@bizjournals.com

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At the age of 7, Donato Tramuto thought he would never hear again. He woke up and found that the world was suddenly muffled. School soon became difficult. Unlike his twin brother, his speech slipped into that of a 2-year old. It took 10 years and seven surgeries before he could finally hear again, though he still hasn’t fully recovered and needs to use hearing aids.

“When I could hear myself talk, I was dumbfounded that anyone wanted to be around me,” Tramuto said in an interview. “I went to the local college every day and taped myself. It wasn’t that I was stupid … once I had the hearing restored, I realized what talents I had. I worked every single day, which is where I got my work ethic.” That doggedness forever changed Tramuto’s life. In 2008, spurred by concerns about problems caused by Merck & Co.’s painkiller Vioxx, Tramuto said he wanted a social media website that would allow physicians to get timely and trusted information on drugs. The concern prompted Tramuto to found Reading-based Physicians Interactive, which uses health care networks to provide up-to-date information on drugs and products. Today, the site is used by 3.5 million physicians.

But even before then, perseverance led Tramuto to success. It allowed him to recover from the sudden death of his older brother in a car accident, followed by the death of his 27-year-old sister-in-law in childbirth.

Grief only made Tramuto more determined. After abrief time in the seminary profession, at the age of 24, he dedicated himself to health care.

His career started modestly at a pharmaceutical company company. Eventually he landed as a Caremark executive, where he started the company’s national disease management program for HIV and AIDS. Wanting to do more, Tramuto founded the drug development and disease management company Protocare in 1997.

Despite his successes, adversity struck again on Sept. 11, 2001. The day before, Tramuto had decided to reschedule his Sept. 11 flight, with friends working around plans to visit with Tramuto. The change saved Tramuto’s life, but his friends and their son ended up on a plane destined for the Twin Towers.

In the fall of 2001, Tramuto launched the Tramuto Foundation in their honor, a nonprofit to help young individuals achieve their educational goals. “Tenacity can get you through anything,” Tramuto said. “I had lost my brother, my sister-in-law, my hearing, my sister had gotten breast cancer … and on top of it all, I lost my three friends. … The foundation became, for me, an opportunity to speak more forcefully about my own life. People were looking at my life and saying, ‘How successful you are!’ But I’m not doing it to be successful; we have to make a difference and give back.”

In 13 years, the foundation has handed out almost $1 million. Donato sold Protocare in 2002, and while working at UnitedHealth Group, started two restaurants and an inn in Ogunquit, Maine. In 2008 he left UnitedHealth to found Physicians Interactive.

Despite his existing work, Tramuto couldn’t stand idly by after the 2011 earthquake in Haiti. So he started Health eVillages, a program that provides state-of-theart mobile health technology and resources to health  professionals in challenging clinical environments.

Tramuto’s resolve has led him to join several executive leadership boards, including the Boston University School of Public Health dean’s advisory board, the Physicians Interactive board of directors as chairman, the Robert F. Kennedy U.S. Leadership Council, the board of Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights Europe as chairman, the HealthWays board of directors as chairman, and the Maine Economic Council.

“I really respect him,” said Dr. Mary Jane England, a friend who is a professor of health policy and management at the Boston University School of Public Health. “He’s a good role model for many of us who work in corporate America. They share their talents not just to run their businesses and be successful, but to help others.”

Tramuto’s life and work have won him the recognition of the 2014 Ripple of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights.

As honored as he is, Tramuto said no award will ever replace the pride he feels about having saved and changed so many lives.

He’s not about to take a break, though. He might next run for political office, or write a book. “When I look back on my life, I say, ‘Wow.’

When I thought I couldn’t do more, I took more on,” Tramuto said. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop. It’s a fair question: What next?”