“A Gentleman and a Scholar” – and a Neurosurgeon Extraordinaire

A year after a horrifying plane crash, Joe Oppedisano is back on his feet, and back to work.

Queens restauranteur Joe Oppedisano loves to fly. He lives on the water in Whitestone and owns a Cessna waterplane that he takes out regularly, usually without incident. One beautiful autumn day in 2020, however, headed home after lunching in Nantucket, things went very wrong. As Joe was coming in for a landing, as he had done so many times before, a small boat suddenly appeared in front of him. In trying to avoid the boat, Joe lost control of the plane, which went down into the East River. Joe was rushed to NewYork-Presbyterian Queens, where team of doctors (including a frequent customer at Il Bacco, one of Joe’s restaurants), was waiting for him.

“One of the first things I remember when waking up in the hospital was the doctor who was sewing up my chin,” Joe recalls. “I know him well; I’d see him at the restaurant sometimes. I asked him, what are you doing here? And he says to me, ‘What am I doing here? Joe, what are you doing here?’ He told me that things were going to be taken care of, but that I needed to go in for spine surgery.”

Dr. John Park, the chief of neurological surgery at Och Spine at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens, was up next. Joe’s back was broken, and one wrong move could leave him paralyzed.

“Joe was severely injured,” recalls Dr. Park. “Along with the broken back, he had sixteen broken ribs, a broken knee, a broken thumb, and two broken feet. That’s a lot to take care of, but the first order of priority is the spine. When you take care of that, everything else can follow.”

Before the crash, Joe was frequently found out in and on his plane

“When they told me I had a chance of being paralyzed, I said there’s no way that’s going to happen to me,” Joe says. “If I’m paralyzed, I’m done for the rest of my life. I was determined to get a hundred percent better.”

In a six-hour operation, Dr. Park repaired Joe’s shattered spine. “We reconstructed his spine,” says Dr. Park. “It required two metal rods in his back with bolts side by side in about a 10-inch-long area. One of the things he said to me was that it looked like a railroad track!”

With his spine stabilized, Joe was ready for additional surgeries. Fortunately for him, NYP Queens and its Weill Cornell Medicine faculty are partners with both NewYork-Presbyterian and the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, where Joe had surgery done on his feet. He was released from the hospital a month after his accident — on November 3, Election Day, and he wasted no time getting to the polls.

Joe had more than 15 surgeries over the following months, but he’s doing well and is determined to get back to flying and skiing. A year later his back is fine, and Joe can’t praise his neurosurgeon enough.

“Dr. Park, I’d recommend him to my father, my brother, anyone else,” he says. “He’s a gentleman and a scholar. He did a phenomenal job!”

In gratitude for his recovery, Joe extended to Dr. Park a standing invitation to visit Il Bacco any time, to have dinner on the house. In September 2021, nearly a year after the accident, Dr. Park took him up on the offer. They are pictured at top at the restaurant. Below: Before the horrifying accident, Joe could frequently be found in (and on) his plane. See a New York Post video about the crash here.

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787