Beacon Stories

Nov 22, 2019

A Renegade on a Mission

Dr. Marciello doesn’t let a Stargardt disease diagnosis get in the way of his twin passions: medicine and baseball.

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Mike Marciello, M.D., was a medical student 25 years ago when he started to notice problems seeing in dark settings. But he struggled to get a diagnosis through his years of academia. Despite those frustrations, he went on to complete his medical degree and became a successful physiatrist, a doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R).

Dr. Marciello is now board certified in PM&R and specializes in musculoskeletal pain disorders. He is also currently in the process of opening an integrative physical medicine private practice, where he will focus on the rehabilitation of patients with disabling neurological and musculoskeletal impairments.

Dr. Mike Marciello

It wasn’t until seven years ago that Dr. Marciello finally received his diagnosis of Stargardt disease, an inherited form of macular degeneration. His disease has progressed very slowly over the years, which is one reason why doctors had a hard time diagnosing his vision challenges.

“I have been fortunate that the central portion of my macula has been relatively spared in spite of the decline,” Dr. Marciello says of his vision, which is currently 20/40 with corrective lenses. “I can still read as long as the words are located central to my vision. It is kind of like looking at a dart board and the bull’s eye is normal, then the next surrounding circle is poor with most of it absent, and the outer circle is normal again.”

Dr. Marciello hasn’t let his Stargardt disease get in the way of his other passion in life – baseball. He was always athletic, playing football and baseball in high school. During college, he played only baseball and on his summer breaks, he participated in the highly competitive Intercity and Boston Park Leagues. As an adult, he helped coach youth baseball, as well as his own children’s baseball teams.

Dr. Marciello discovered beep baseball in 2013, shortly, and coincidentally, after he received his official diagnosis of Stargardt disease. Beep baseball is an adaptive form of baseball. There are two sighted coaches on the field to direct the defense, and a sighted pitcher and catcher to direct the offense; the players and batters are all blinded. Instead of the traditional three bases, beep baseball only has two bases roughly placed where first and third are located. These bases are tall, cylinder-shaped, and beep through a speaker. Batters get four strikes per out. There are six innings and three outs per inning for each team. When the beeping ball is hit, the sighted spotter in the field will call out a zone so that the blinded players on the field know which direction the ball is going. The goal for the defensive player is to make contact with the ball and pick it up before the batter reaches base.

“The game is challenging, physically demanding, but a lot of fun!” says Dr. Marciello. “When I heard about the Boston Renegades beep ball team through a local publication, I thought to myself, well this is me! A group of blind and low vision people playing this game I love. I knew I wanted to become involved with it somehow.”

Dr. Marciello now helps as the team’s batting coach. Beep baseball can sometimes be brutal, and players often take a beating on the field due to how physically demanding the games can get, especially in the field diving for the ball. Dr. Marciello saw another opportunity to help the team and puts his medical expertise to use as the team doctor, treating the injuries that the players incur during the game.

Dr. Marciello has been involved with the Foundation Fighting Blindness for more than a year. He first became involved with the Boston chapter, and then became a chapter leader for the Foundation’s new Professional Outreach department. The goal of Professional Outreach is to get more facilities, doctors, and ultimately patients, across the nation familiar with the Foundation and the many resources available for patients diagnosed with inherited retinal diseases. Dr. Marciello helps achieve that goal by using not only his medical background and education, but his own experience and frustrations going through the process of getting diagnosed. There is little awareness in the medical community when it comes to inherited retinal diseases.

“It’s important that doctors know how to take care of their blind and low vision patients so that they can take better care of them,” says Dr. Marciello, on why he wanted to become involved in this new endeavor.

Dr. Marciello’s passion and motivation to help improve the patient experience makes him a great advocate for the Foundation. With Dr. Marciello and other volunteers, the Foundation is helping more patients and families feel hopeful when they receive their diagnosis.