Being There

While his friends went to high school football games, biomedical engineering student Dominic De La Torre cared for his ailing grandmother. He has no regrets.

USC Viterbi student Dominic De La Torre, a talented musician, hopes to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps and become a doctor.

It’s Friday night. All of Dominic De La Torre’s friends are at the Del Norte High School football game. And him? His plans include cleaning his grandmother’s dentures, cooking for her, changing her diaper and carrying her to bed.

There was nowhere else on Earth he would rather be.

De La Torre, now a first-year biomedical engineering major at USC Viterbi, served as a primary caretaker for his grandmother, taking on adult responsibilities while still just a child himself. From eighth grade until her death at age 90 from dementia during his junior year of high school, he devoted 12 to 16 hours a week to her care, on top of homework and extracurricular activities.

“There were some points where I definitely felt like it was too much for me. Some of my friends were off going to football games and stuff, and I couldn’t go,” De La Torre said. “But I’m so glad I could be there for her.”

Just as she was glad she could be there for him, her beloved apo.


An inspiration

A native of Philippines, Natalia De La Torre grew up in a poor section of the capital city of Manila. Overcoming sexism and class and economic barriers, she earned a medical degree and had a successful career as a general practitioner, delivering thousands of babies along the way.

In 1995 De La Torre moved to the United States with her son, Dominic’s father, for a better life. Unfortunately, she could not practice medicine in America. Years later, when Dominic’s parents went to work, Grandma Natalia would often watch young Dominic during the day.

“I honestly think that she contributed so much to my academic inquisitiveness, and to my work ethic as well,” he said. “She would teach me math, reading comprehension, spelling and science — everything.”

Natalia also helped cultivate his love for music. Although his parents’ encouragement and his steadfast commitment led him to master the piano, violin and viola, De La Torre said his grandmother’s support meant a lot.

“She always told me that music was stimulating for the brain and that it would help me perform well academically,” he said. “She knew how to play the piano and would sometimes play the piece ‘Chopsticks’ with me.”

When her health deteriorated, De La Torre often dropped by her room to play the viola for her. “She smiled a lot,” he said.

Under her positive influence, De La Torre blossomed at Del Norte High in San Diego. There, he served as an ambassador to the National Honor Society, one of only 10 nationally; was the second principal violist for San Diego Youth Symphony; and held local and statewide offices for Hosa, an organization committed to cultivating the next generation of global health care leaders.

Natalia’s death late in 2021 devastated De La Torre. Still, her memory continues to inspire.

“I want to become an anesthesiologist and make sure patients stay safe and comfortable, kind of like I did with my grandmother,” he said. “She’s what really motivates me.”