Growing up in a Mafia family – Interview with Dr Richard DeAndre
From ghetto to Princeton, Dr Richard DeAndre tells it all
Growing up was not easy for Dr DeAndre. He was brought up in the streets of the poorest, most violent areas in United States – Hell’s Kitchen, New York City – known for its Mafia, druggies and high crime rates.
Having grown up in a poor Sicilian Mafia family where nobody ever graduated from high school, one wonders how Dr DeAndre made it to where he is today. “I was the first to graduate from high school and I decided to go to college. I wanted to become a doctor. We had no money so the only way was to study till I got a scholarship.”
A scholarship saw him through medical school in the University of New York where he successfully completed an accelerated program within six years. He later took the path into surgical residency. Today, he is a successful medical director and naturopathic doctor who works with the King of Thailand. He is also the representing doctor of MFIII’s stem cell therapies with a hand in reconstructive surgery, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Herbology, Hypnotherapy, Linguistic Programming, Social Psychology, Oxygen Therapy, just to name a few.
Why the choice of medicine and alternative healing therapies, I ask. “I came from a family where taking care of people was very important. My family was involved in the Mafia so it was very important that we were united and took care of one another. That propelled me to take up medicine. I wanted to make my family and my community better. I wanted to make things happier for people, and I thought the best way was to take care of their suffering.”
Work and norms
Having lived most of his younger years in New York, one would have thought it was only natural for Dr DeAndre to build his business of two clinics in the swankiest parts of the city. Instead, he chose Bangkok, Thailand. “I like Thailand for many reasons. People there are compassionate and happy. Plus, I believe that Thailand, being affordable, will become a medical hub of Asia.”
After years based in Bangkok, one would imagine Dr DeAndre has adopted the friendly, affable culture of the Land of Smiles. But he shares he is not the easiest person to work with. “I am very hard on myself, I focus a lot on details. I tell my staff that they can only make one mistake. If they repeat the same mistake, they will not be working with me anymore. I work to help and heal people. I cannot afford any mistakes. You like me only because you are not working with me.” The corners of his eyes crinkle with laughter but I suspect he means business.
Transition of knives – From Mafia to surgery
Dr DeAndre’s life story reminds me of the noblest of tales, only truer. At the tender age of seven, Dr DeAndre’s biological father left the family in the ghettos. At 14, his stepfather came into the family. Playing an active part of the Mafia,
Dr DeAndre’s new father had no qualms on encouraging his teenage stepson to join the Mafia. “Time and again, he would ask me to join the Mafia. We finally agreed that I would help them but not work for them.” Stabbings and gangs were just some of the day-to-day threats Dr DeAndre faced growing up in the notorious neighbourhood. “I was good with the knife because of the environment I grew up in. My cousin, my only close friend, nearly died from a stab wound. My stepfather was Sicilian, heavily involved with the Mafia and he often reminded me if school didn’t work out, there was always the Mafia I could count on.”
It certainly took young DeAndre an admirable amount of perseverance and hard work – but he found his place in the prestigious, ivy-leagued Princeton University in New Jersey. “I decided on joining Princeton instead of the family’s Mafia business. My dad told me, you could join me, or pay for your own education. He was not supportive of me becoming a doctor.”
But like any other father, Dr DeAndre’s dad was no different – he loved and was proud of his son in his own way. “When I graduated from medical school he showed up and said to me, ‘Alright, let’s see what you can do from here.’ My father and I share a good relationship. We often disagree but we respect each other. We are close. He is coming to live with me in Bangkok where I will look after him. Today he is asking why I am in my forties, still unmarried,” chuckles Dr DeAndre.
His mother, on the other hand, is far from her flamboyant husband, Dr DeAndre shares. She is a quiet lady who wishes happiness for everyone and finds joy in simple things like feeding her pet bird. “My mother is an Egyptian Jew and the only fan in my fan club. She is dyslexic and has attention deficit. She had little education but she knows how to love, and she loves me unconditionally. She always reminds me to do what makes me happy.”
Dr DeAndre thinks about life a lot. Like a light bulb that projects light, Dr DeAndre is a fountain of knowledge, information and curious thoughts. “I’ve been in 28 countries and I’ve lived in eight. I’ve been to less-travelled-to places such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Palestine. I speak English, Spanish, and Italian, and understand some Yeddish and a little Thai.”
When asked about his favourite place in the world, he jumps in without any hesitation. “I’ve seen many cities and they don’t do anything for me. They just look like they are trying to out-create each other. I like nature. I love Papeete, a small island of Tahiti. There are only 5,000 people on the island and you live by when the boat comes to bring the food, and you walk in the dirt every day. It’s also the only place in the world where I can surf alone, with nobody taking the surf from me. I think about going back there, staying in a little hut, eating fruit, surfing all day, and settling down with a Tahitian girl.”
As our interesting chat drifts on, the well-travelled doctor goes on to share random philosophies and thoughts on religion and culture. “I’ve been in many different cultures, travelled to many parts of the world and read at least 10 religious books – the Quran to the Bible. In Middle East, people kill each other. My mother is Muslim so I wanted to understand more. See, belief is beautiful. As soon as you believe something, you will guard it with your life and you will harm others for it though it is just a thought in your head.”
From ghetto to Princeton, all over the world, and then West to East (New York to Bangkok), Dr DeAndre’s heart stays with the people of Thailand. “People in Thailand don’t really live thinking about the future or the past. There is the negative side and the positive side to it as well. I realise that I spend too much time worrying about what is going to happen ten years from now!” And his honest take on Singapore? “Singapore has a culture like an Apple computer compared to a PC. It’s straight to the point, no bull***t in order to make sense – everything is clean and accessible.”
I let out a laugh and nod my head in agreement.
By Cheryl Koh