A NORTHWELL POWER COUPLE CARES FOR THEIR COMMUNITY ON STATEN ISLAND AND BEYOND
BY ERIK SCHONING PHOTOS BY ALEX BARRETO
For husband-and-wife doctor duo Donna Acquafredda, MD, and Eugene Holuka, MD, both physicians with North well Health, family is everything. The lifelong NYC natives are passionate about investing in and nurturing the community, from their three sons to their fellow Staten Islanders to the Ukrainian American immigrant and refugee population at large. No matter the scale, a family-first approach has been the key to everything Dr. Acquafredda and Dr. Holuka have built.
Dr. Holuka grew up on the Lower East Side in a Ukrainian neighborhood (as a kid, his family attended St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church, right across the street from the famed McSorley’s Ale House), while Dr. Acquafredda grew up one borough over on Staten Island, the daughter of Italian-American parents. Both Holuka and Acquafredda enrolled in medical school at Universidad del Noreste in Tampico, Mexico. They met cue the Hollywood soundtrack – on their first day of medical school.
“I saw her and I said to my friend, ‘You see that girl right over there? She’s going to be my wife,’” Dr. Holuka said. “He looked at her and he looked at me, and he thought I was an idiot. [laughs] But almost 40 years later, here we are.”
Dr. Holuka and Dr. Acquafredda decided to put down roots in Staten Island after Holuka fell in love with his wife’s home borough. After a series of residencies and fellowships around the city, Dr. Holuka, an internist, was one of the first physicians to join the University Physicians Group, today part of Northwell Health. (Dr. Acquafredda, a rheumatologist, joined a few years later.) For both doctors, who see patients out of offices on the North and South Shores, treating their fellow Staten Islanders has been deeply rewarding.
“It’s very family-based,” Dr. Holuka said of the borough. “Everybody knows each other. If God forbid there’s a problem, they just pick up the phone as we all know each other so closely. I’m very impressed. My wife is a third-generation Staten Islander. She now says, ‘You like Staten Island more than I do!’”
As if a husband-and-wife medical duo wasn’t enough, the couple’s three children Gregory, Jonathan, and Zachary have all found their way into the family business. Gregory works at Lenox Hill Hospital, Jonathan is a fourth-year medical student at Touro, and Zachary is a managed care administrator at Northwell. Medicine has become the family trade, but that doesn’t mean the family doesn’t take time to connect on things outside of the clinic.
“What’s funny is we never talk shop at home,” Holuka said. “Practically never. My wife comes home after work, and there’s always a family sit-down dinner. It could be 8 or 9 p.m. She maintains the Italian tradition that the whole family sits and waits until everyone shows up.”
These days, Dr. Holuka has barely a spare minute. Outside of his practice, he is an associate professor at Touro and Hofstra Medical Schools. He also participates once a week in a Medicaid clinic, Sun River Health. He sees just about every type of patient on Staten Island and emphasizes heartfelt, compassionate care for all.
“It’s very gratifying that I’m able to do service, taking care of these patients,” Dr. Holuka said. “Because it doesn’t make a difference who you are, where you’re from, the neighborhood you live in, or your background. We treat you equally.”
As a Ukrainian-American, Dr. Holuka has been donating medical supplies to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February of last year, in addition to supplying children’s clothing to Zhytomyr orphanages. In many ways, Dr. Holuka was the perfect person to coordinate Northwell’s donation efforts: he’s been donating medical supplies to the country for over 30 years.
“Since Ukraine established its independence in 1991, I started helping, sending over medical equipment that was being donated from NYC,” Dr. Holuka said. “I would collect the equipment with other organizations and ship it out to Ukraine. There was a period in the early ‘90s when we sent over 11 million dollars worth of medical equipment.”
In 2000, he was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his work in bringing sick children from Ukraine to NYC for necessary, life-saving surgeries. In 2001, he received a medal from Ukraine’s then-president Leonid Kuchma. This past year has been a trying one for Dr. Acquafredda and Dr. Holuka, but they have relied on the Northwell system of providers, hospitals, and medical equipment suppliers to donate as much as they can to the people of Ukraine. To date, they’ve been responsible for an influx of intubation trays, gloves, sutures, sonograms, defibrillators, operating room equipment, and other frontline medical equipment to the country. Through Americare, they oversaw the donation of over a million dollars worth of antibiotics.
Whether it’s for Staten Island locals or frontline fighters in Ukraine, Dr. Holuka and Dr. Acquafredda have always prioritized care, attention to detail, and giving back. As children of tight-knit immigrant communities in New York City, they know a thing or two about looking out for your people. That’s just the way they were raised.