When Dr. Greg Natello ’76 was 12 years old, he was diagnosed with diabetes. His parents, a barber and a waitress, did not want their son reliant on insulin for the rest of his life and started him on an intensive nutrition plan.
Their intervention worked.
“My parents cured me of my diabetes,” said Natello, who is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease, as well as a functional medicine certified practitioner. “That was the beginning of my passion for medicine, and over time, a particular interest in a patient-centered holistic approach to medical care.”
While Natello’s childhood health scare sparked his interest in a medical career, it was his time at Gettysburg that helped solidify it. As a biology major, Natello received broad training within the life sciences, delving into the studies of organisms, populations, and molecular and cellular biology from professors like Prof. Emeritus Ralph Cavaliere. For Natello, Cavaliere was an “important mentor, guide, and friend” whose teachings “stimulated excitement and intellectual curiosity” and whose mentorship led to a life-changing summer experience: a demanding independent study at a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, hospital.
“I actually slept at the hospital and worked through an intense curriculum in the most hands-on way possible. That worked out so well that they approved me to do the same thing for the January term,” said Natello. “That experience, along with the incredible biology program and faculty at Gettysburg, really prepared me for medical school.”
After graduation, Natello attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He then completed his residency in internal medicine at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, an institution that continues to have a large influence on him both professionally and personally. That was followed by cardiovascular disease fellowships at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Thomas Jefferson University.
Though an experienced physician, Natello’s approach has undergone significant shifts as he continues to learn and grow in his profession. Earlier in his career as an interventional cardiologist, Natello began to feel that his patient care was missing something, and that he could contribute more to his patients’ long-term health and wellness. He was spending his days putting stents in patients’ arteries for dangerous blockages, but felt that he wasn’t adequately addressing the underlying disease that caused the need for stents in the first place.
When Natello personally began to feel unwell in 2005 with odd symptoms, he experienced what many of his patients had as well: siloed specialists who didn’t take a cohesive, full-picture approach to his health. Many doctors told him his symptoms were just from working too hard. Nevertheless, Natello persisted and eventually received a diagnosis. “I had a label now,” he said, “but I was also frustrated and frightened being told that there was no identifiable cause, nothing I could do to help myself, and that the only thing that might help was a serious medication.”
Natello continued searching and found his answers in current medical science, which also brought him back to study at the Cleveland Clinic and their Center for Functional Medicine. His experience there further strengthened his focus “on getting to the root causes of long-term low-grade inflammation—thought to be driving much of our modern-day epidemic of chronic diseases—many of which are preventable, modifiable, and even reversible.”
Having learned to recognize and address underlying causes, Natello overcame his illness almost 20 years ago. He now applies the same approach to his patients.
He used that same approach with National Football League (NFL) former players as a medical consultant for the 2021 NFL Alumni Association (NFLAA) inaugural Wellness Challenge alongside Dr. Mehmet Oz and others, as part of their larger ‘Huddle Up: Let’s Talk Obesity’ Campaign that aimed to “increase awareness that obesity is a medical condition, help is available, and no one needs to travel alone on their journey to better health.”
With 52 percent of NFLAA members considered obese, the Wellness Challenge worked to help NFL alumni implement nutrition and lifestyle changes. Over the course of six months, the former players were supported through a program that was tailored to each person’s unique health conditions. Through this highly successful challenge, Natello assisted with medical and diagnostic planning. He continues to serve as a medical consultant in 2022.
As a former Gettysburg football player and having overcome childhood obesity, being a part of the NFLAA Wellness Challenge was both professionally and personally gratifying.
“More than weight loss, the Challenge is about adopting sustainable health promoting practices and favorably altering metabolism and mindset to feel well and function at one’s best, while reducing the risk for obesity-related issues like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancers, and dementia,” he said. “It’s a whole-person approach.”
It’s an approach that he experienced as a student-athlete at Gettysburg on the football field: “Gettysburg has always excelled in caring for its student-athletes. I received care from the best of the best, including athletic trainers Lefty Biser and Joe Donolli.”
Natello also credits Gettysburg College with helping him understand the importance of seeing the bigger picture.
“A liberal arts education provides a 30,000-foot view to better see the whole picture, and the ability to more effectively problem solve,” he said. “That’s particularly important in currently siloed healthcare, wherein we often miss the opportunity to address the causes driving a person’s disease and to help patients move from illness to health.”
He added that his foundation in biology at Gettysburg was “unsurpassed” and prepared him for the “paradigm shifts” happening in medicine.
“Gettysburg College helped me understand the fundamental physiology and biology of inflammation thought to underlie many chronic diseases—the leading causes of disability and death accounting for 90% of U.S. health care expenditures. This helped me grow as a physician and what I learned then is even more relevant today.”
A strong believer in the benefits of the powerful integration of a liberal arts and sciences curriculum combined with real-world learning, Natello encourages young people to embrace this type of education, as well as care for their health and wellness now.
“Your habits today are setting the stage for health or illness in future years,” he said. “Be mindful of things like eating a rainbow of nutrient-dense, unprocessed, anti-inflammatory foods. Prioritize movement, sleep, lowering physiologic stress, using non-harmful products, cultivating healthy relationships, and practicing gratitude.”
“Health really is your greatest wealth,” he concluded. “Without it, you won’t be able to effectively help anyone else nor, in the tradition of Gettysburg College, Do Great Work.”
Learn more about the holistic approach to Gettysburg’s liberal arts and sciences education.
By Katelyn Silva
Photo courtesy of Dr. Greg Natello ’76