Laughing His Way to Longevity: UConn Health Patient Offers Insights

World War II veteran, 98, shares secrets to ‘successful aging’ with UConn class of future physicians

Guest speaker addressing medical school class

John Tessitore, 98, addresses Dr. Jaclyn Jaeger's (left) Case Oriented Essentials course at the UConn School of Medicine Feb. 17, 2023. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

As they go on to become physicians, about 100 members of the UConn School of Medicine Class of 2025 will take with them a patient encounter they likely weren’t expecting to have.

They heard about the concept of “successful aging” from someone who would know: John Tessitore, who offered insights on why he continues to thrive at age 98.

“I think the secret is to be happy, is to smile a lot, laugh a lot,” Tessitore says. “Make other people smile, make other people laugh. Let them feel part of the conversation. Make sure you listen to other people because they have something to say, and you can learn something yourself.”

Tessitore has been a patient of Dr. Jaclyn Jaeger, a geriatrician in the UConn Center on Aging and assistant professor of medicine, since he moved to Connecticut from South Carolina in 2020.

doctor with patient portrait, outside clinical setting
Dr. Jaclyn Jaeger, UConn Health geriatrician, invited patient John Tessitore, 98, to speak to her medical school class about “successful aging” Feb. 17, 2023. (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

“He has a perpetually positive outlook on life,” Jaeger says. “Mr. Tessitore’s overall health is excellent. He is one of the healthiest, most vibrant patients in my entire practice. One of the most impressive goals he shared when we initially met was that he tries to walk 10,000 steps daily.”

“I keep my mind active,” Tessitore says. “I love sports, so I watch a lot of sports on TV. But I not only watch them, if I’m watching baseball, I become the manager, I become the umpire, I yell at the television. I just feel that it creates an excitement in you if you have something to cheer about.”

He says he’s been a New York Yankees fan since he was 10, which takes him back to before Micky Mantle, before Joe DiMaggio, to when Lou Gehrig was still playing. All but one of the Yankees’ 27 World Series titles have come during Tessitore’s lifetime.

A Navy veteran who served in World War II, Tessitore lives at the Village at Buckland Court in South Windsor, with his daughter and son-in-law in neighboring Manchester.

“I also get involved in word games at my assisted living facility, and try to participate in what’s going on,” he says. “I try to learn more about the people with whom I reside, and try to make them laugh too. They need it.”

“Mr. Tessitore truly is the definition of successful aging,” Jaeger says. “He has avoided major medical illnesses and disability, has high cognitive and physical function, and continues to be actively engaged in life. He has had a life rich in experience and is a captivating conversationalist when he generously shares his life story. We all could learn a lot from him!”

When Tessitore moved to Connecticut, he became Jaeger’s patient on the recommendation of Dr. Benjamin Ristau, a urologic surgeon who recently had joined the UConn Health faculty. He’s also Tessitore’s grandson.

“It is of the great privileges of my life to have had my grandfather around for so long,” Ristau says. “He is the epitome of optimism and vitality, even at the age of 98! Whether chatting about a ballgame or celebrating family milestones, he has always been a cornerstone of our family. I am a better person for knowing him, and I am truly grateful to witness the example of healthy aging that he lives.”

students in academic rotunda listening to speaker
About 100 UConn medical students listen to guest speaker John Tessitore, 98 (center of photo), talk about “successful aging.” (Photo by Chris DeFrancesco)

In addition to seeing patients in the UConn Center on Aging and at the Avon Health Center, where she serves as a transitionist and associate medical director, Jaeger leads the medical school’s Block E week 10 Case Oriented Essentials (COrE), a problem-based, team-based learning course for second-year students designed to build clinical reasoning skills.

“It’s important for students to recognize and understand some major principles and tenets of caring for older adults before their clerkships begin,” Jaeger says. “This unit provides that opportunity. Coordinating and teaching this unit is an absolute pleasure and honor for me, and being able to share a patient like Mr. Tessitore with the students is by far the most exciting and valuable part of the unit.”

Over the last several years, the course has placed a growing emphasis on the complexity of caring for older adults and the diversity of the aging population.

“My hope is that students recognize that the geriatric population is filled with people just like Mr. Tessitore — dynamic, energetic people with an incredible zest for life,” Jaeger says. “The patients have amazing stories and experiences that they enjoy sharing. Taking the time to listen to them is always a worthwhile learning experience. Plus, the students will undoubtedly be caring for older adults throughout their careers. Even future pediatricians can learn from this group!”

And Tessitore was happy to come in as a guest speaker Friday.

“It was an honor to speak to the kids and to the faculty here, and the doctors,” he says. “It was a privilege.”