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      Rockford gastro doctor prioritizes healthy living personally and for patients

      Dr. Joseph Vicari

      At age 53, Dr. Vicari is dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle and has worked for the past 20 years to help improve the digestive health of patients at Rockford Gastroenterology Associates (RGA).

      Dr. Vicari grew up in New Jersey and attended undergraduate and medical school at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Creighton, which is also where he met his future wife, Susan, who was attending pharmacy school at the time. He went on to finish his gastroenterology fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

      Back in 1996, Dr. Vicari heard Dr. Jim Frakes, one of the original partners of Rockford Gastroenterology Associates, speak about the practice at a gastrointestinal (GI) meeting. They had mutual friends at the Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Vicari said at the time that Rockford Gastro sounded like a great place to work.

      After two decades, his opinion remains the same.

      "Each physician here has some specialties, and they’re able to pursue their GI passion and deliver better care to the patients," Dr. Vicari said. "People here are just really nice. It’s a happy place to work. I don’t really look at it as a job or a place where I just come to work. It’s something I love to do."

      Dr. Vicari specializes in treating liver disease, including fatty liver (buildup of fat in the liver cells). Risk factors for fatty liver disease include heavy alcohol use, obesity, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Most patients with liver disease don’t experience specific symptoms – the disease is most often diagnosed by routine lab screening done by a primary care physician. Left untreated, there is the potential for more advanced liver injury.

      Part of the conversation with patients diagnosed with fatty liver disease involves diet and exercise. One key to improving diets, he said, is that they can’t be too restrictive.

      "It has to be practical," Dr. Vicari explained. "The main thing is portion control and reducing consumption of fatty foods and unhealthy snacks. If you start to restrict a diet too quickly, it’s difficult for people to follow."

      Dr. Vicari tries to lead by example: He loves to cook and focuses on making healthy foods taste good. He was inspired by the "Blue Zone" and Mediterranean diets which is based on research from across the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest.

      Another one of his passions is exercise. He runs with fellow RGA physician Dr. Kevin Peifer a few times a week and does CrossFit on other days.

      In addition to his focused practice on liver diseases, Dr. Vicari’s favorite daily routine is endoscopy, such as removing polyps and lesions from the colon.

      "The single most important thing we do is to find and remove precancerous polyps and prevent colon cancer," Dr. Vicari said. "It’s nice to be able to do that without requiring people to have surgery. It’s a less-invasive procedure and very rewarding for those of us who get to do that for patients. I would scope all day long, every day if I could."

      Dr. Vicari is board-certified in gastroenterology and currently serves on the Practice Management Committee of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and is a journal reviewer for the American Journal of Gastroenterology and GIE. Outside of RGA, Dr. Vicari loves to fish and travel, and he’s learning Italian in hopes of becoming fluent. He and Susan live in Rockford and they have two daughters.