Bereaved son takes a swing at deadly infection

Gregg Gagliardi (middle pictured with sister-in-law Alicia Gagliardi; Houston Astros televison play-by-play announcer Todd Kalas; brother Glenn Gagliardi; and family friend Paul Davis.

Dec. 20, 2023

Family members were blindsided when Anthony Gagliardi died of an intractable colon infection in 2014, not long after being diagnosed with colon cancer.

“Our dad, we looked up to him. He was the patriarch of the family. It’s crazy how it all goes,” says his son, Gregg Gagliardi, explaining everyone had focused on diabetes as the primary threat to his father.

But it wasn’t diabetes or even colon cancer that killed Anthony. It was Clostridioides difficile, a highly contagious bacterium.

Dismayed by the lack of research into effective treatments for C. difficile, Gregg Gagliardi took action. Ten years ago, he — along with board members Chuck O’Donnell, CPA, Jim Rusch, Sebastian Tas, MD, and Gregg’s brother Glenn — began hosting an annual golf tournament to raise funds for studies at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and other Central Florida facilities. They formalized their fundraising efforts by forming the Anthony Gagliardi Memorial Foundation, obtaining IRS 501(c)(3) status and sales tax exemption status from the state of Florida.

Dr. Sun and his research team
Xingmin Sun, PhD, and his research team are working on potential vaccines for C. difficile.

Most recently, the Anthony Gagliardi Memorial Foundation enabled Xingmin Sun, PhD, and his team in the Department of Molecular Medicine at USF to purchase a high-end fluorescent microscope to support C. difficile research projects. They’re working on potential vaccines to protect against C. difficile, which can thrive for months on doorknobs and tabletops despite the use of disinfectants. 

Sun says thanks in part to the foundation’s gifts, the team has developed promising vaccine candidates and recently won a major grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Turning to golf to address an issue that affects about 500,000 people a year in the U.S. alone was a natural for Gagliardi, a PGA golf professional since 1990, including 14 years as president of the virtual club Paradise Golf. He has organized numerous golf tournaments for charitable causes.

“I felt like if I could use my dad’s passing to help others, then we wanted to do it,” he says.

When it came time to award the money, one of his father’s physicians, Dr. Sebastian Tas, connected the family with C. difficile researchers at USF and the University of Central Florida.

Only a handful of medicines help treat the infection, and they’re expensive, Gagliardi says. People prone to severe illness include the most vulnerable: those already taking antibiotics for other ailments, people over 65, people with certain other chronic ailments, and those in hospitals and nursing homes. 

“It’s amazing how many people have said, ‘Oh, I know a family member who got C. diff.’ It touches a lot of people,” Gagliardi says.

He hopes researchers like Sun will find a cure or develop a vaccine to prevent infection in the first place.

“Dr. Sun is doing a great job. He really is sincerely engaged in finding better treatments. He’s dedicated his life’s work to it and that is a great thing.” 

Recently, Gagliardi moved to North Carolina, so December’s 10th Anthony Gagliardi Memorial Foundation golf tournament was also the last. The event, a sell-out every year, has raised more than $120,000 for research at USF and UCF. 

Gagliardi hopes his efforts have brought attention and awareness to C. difficile.

“I’m not a well-known person, but I figured having a tool like golf was a way to honor my dad and try to find a cure,” he says. “Hopefully somebody will pick up the ball for us.”

Pun intended.

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