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René Geronimo Favaloro

René Geronimo Favaloro

1923-

Argentinean Surgeon

In 1967 René Favaloro performed the first successful, fully documented coronary bypass, substituting a vein from the patient's leg for a damaged artery in the heart. The procedure had been attempted unsuccessfully before, and successfully in an emergency situation, but Favaloro's was the first planned bypass, complete with supporting literature, which he published in 1968. Favaloro also established one of Latin America's leading medical training facilities, the Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Favaloro was born in 1923 in La Plata, Argentina. His father, Juan Favaloro, was a carpenter, and his mother, Ida Raffaeli Favaloro, a dressmaker. Favaloro attended the National College and Medical School at the University of La Plata, from which he received his M.D. degree in 1949. He underwent his internship and residency at the Instituto General San Martin in La Plata, where he also held his first staff position.

In 1961 Favaloro traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to observe the latest techniques in myocardial revascularization (increasing a restricted blood supply to the heart) at the Cleveland Clinic. He asked for a job, and joined the hospital's thoracic and cardiovascular team in 1962. Five years earlier, F. Mason Sones, Jr., of the Cleveland Clinic had developed angiography, in which dye is inserted via catheter into the arteries, exposing on X-rays the exact location of blockages. This tool had greatly improved conditions for bypass surgery by facilitating the selection of candidates for such operations.

In 1962 David Sabiston of Duke University in North Carolina performed the first human bypass, but it had been unsuccessful. Two years later, in 1964, H. Edward Garrett performed the first successful bypass operation, but he did so in an emergency situation, and did not publish documentation for another decade. Favaloro's 1967 bypass was a groundbreaking operation, and so successful that in the following three years Favaloro and others on his team performed more than 1,000 such operations. A quarter were multiple bypasses, and the death rate was an impressively low 4.2 percent.

Favaloro left the Cleveland Clinic in 1971 and returned to Buenos Aires, where he established the Favaloro Foundation to teach bypass surgery. He also began work on a dream he finally realized in 1992, with the completion of a ten-story, $55-million facility for the Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery, one of the finest medical teaching programs in Latin America. Favaloro's programs have trained hundreds of heart surgeons, and he and his team have performed thousands of bypass operations.

Favaloro, who served in the Army of the Republic of Argentina as a lieutenant, is considered a hero in his homeland, where he is often suggested as a presidential candidate. Favaloro himself, however, has expressed little interest in a political career. He is married to Maria A. Delgado, and is a member of several professional societies.

JUDSON KNIGHT

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