Saviors in History: René Favaloro

Saviors in History: René Favaloro

“Science is one of the most elevated forms of spiritual duty, since it relates to creative intellectual activity, the supreme form of our human nature.” René Favaloro spoke these words at the "Science, Education and Development" conference at Tel Aviv University on May, 1995. An educator and cardiac surgeon, he pioneered the use of the saphenous vein in coronary bypass surgery, a technique that helped him save thousands of lives. Previously, he had spent 12 years as a doctor in a remote town in the Argentinian pampas, where he transformed living conditions by teaching basic health concepts, thus reducing child mortality and malnutrition rates.
Born in La Plata, Argentina, in 1923, Dr. Favaloro studied medicine at the National University of La Plata and, in his third year of college, started an internship at the local Hospital Policlinico San Martin. His teachers and classmates used to say he was a restless young man, with a strong desire to continue working and devoting himself to his patients, as he returned to the hospital to follow up and see how they progressed. 
In 1950, shortly after graduating, René received a letter from an uncle who lived in Jacinto Aráuz, a small town in the province of La Pampa. The letter said that the town’s doctor was ill and that professionals were needed to replace him. In May of that year, Favaloro arrived in the village, and committed himself to improving the situation. Soon he was joined by his brother Juan José, who was also a physician. Together they founded a health center, which became crucial for the local population. The two brothers not only worked on improving public health, but also tried to educate the population, something they considered essential in achieving social change.

                                                                  René Favaloro

Change quickly became apparent. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many lives Dr. Favaloro saved, but at some point the impact became evident: infections during childbirth became rare, child mortality dropped to near zero and the number of malnutrition cases fell steadily. The medical center grew and became essential for all local residents.  
Dr. Favaloro embodied the unsung hero; his white apron did not distance him from his patients. On the contrary, it led to the transformation of a whole population.  
During the time he spent in Jacinto Aráuz, René Favaloro never stopped studying, and he often went to La Plata to continue training on new techniques. Cardiovascular surgery was his passion. After 12 years as a rural physician, a greater challenge was in store for him: it was time to travel to the United States to look into new treatments and become a specialist in this field. He arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, and decided to join the Cleveland Clinic as a resident and later as a member of its surgical team. 
In 1967, the Argentinian doctor started working on a method that would revolutionize medicine. Favaloro began using the saphenous vein in heart surgery – the beginning of a technique known as bypass, which is widely used today. 
He pioneered a new paradigm in medicine; a radical change in the history of coronary medicine that reverberated around the world.   
In 1971, Doctor Favaloro returned to his homeland and, some years later, created the Favaloro Foundation, a research and education center that remains one of the country’s most prestigious institutions. In 1992, in order to be closer to the people, he established the Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery of the Favaloro Foundation, a non-profit organization with the slogan “advanced technology at the service of medical humanism.”

Dr. Favaloro enjoys a light moment with Nobel Laureate Dr. Luis Leloir and Leloir’s wife Amelia

Throughout his career he traveled the world, giving lectures,not only about his revolutionary technique, but also about the relationship between science, education and human development. Among many other destinations, he visited Yerevan, Armenia, in 1973, where he was a speaker at a conference at the Yerevan State Medical School. 
René Favaloro went far beyond the field of medicine and always stood by the people. His position in popular culture was so great that two Argentinian rock bands, Ataque 77 and Bersuit Vergarabat, dedicated songs to him. Dr. Favaloro took his own life on July 29, 2000, having been unable to secure the funding for his foundation.