FAVALORO, RENÉ GERÓNIMO (12 July 1923-29 July 2000) was an Argentinian-born surgeon known for his work developing the coronary bypass surgery. After creating a strong legacy and career in the United States, Favaloro returned to Argentina to create his own hospital, which trained Latin American doctors and provided healthcare to countless patients, often free of charge. Favaloro’s humility and dedication to treating patients served as an inspiration for his students and his hospital continues to treat patients and train doctors in the present day.

Favaloro was born in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Juan Favaloro and Ida Y. Raffaelli. He attended the University of La Plata, where he graduated in 1949 at the top of his class. Rather than pursuing a career in thoracic surgery, Favaloro began working at a hospital in Jacinto Arauz, in the province of La Pampa. In this impoverished town, Favaloro became aware of the social factors that impact health, namely poverty. He stated that all doctors should work with the poor and see their living conditions, referencing the fact that many patients have one room where they must do everything and often live in contaminated areas. Even after leaving Jacinto Arauz, he remained aware of the impact social class has on health outcomes; he would spend the majority of his career improving the health care system in Argentina.

Under Favaloro’s care, Jacinto Arauz’s health outcomes steadily began to improve. Over the course of twelve years, Favaloro promoted preventative health care measures, created the region’s first blood bank, built an operating room, and helped train physicians and nurses. One report claims that he often returned to La Plata to continue his training and improve the quality of care he could provide his patients. By 1962, however, he decided to immigrate to the United States to further his education. He moved to Cleveland, where he worked at the CLEVELAND CLINIC FOUNDATION with Doctors MASON SONES, WILLEM KOLFF, and Donald Effler. These three men had already established themselves as pioneers in the medical research community. Soon, Favalaro would join their ranks.

Over the next five years, Favaloro studied the mechanisms of indirect revascularization as captured in Sones’ cineangiograms. He began to wonder if direct revascularization could be achieved by using saphenous vein grafts. The use of the saphenous vein in heart surgeries had been done before; although those were for partial reconstructions and often led to blood clots and blocked veins after surgery. The saphenous vein is located in the leg and helps pump blood between the heart and extremities. Since the saphenous vein is superficial, the circulation of the leg is not reliant on it. As a result, surgeons can use the saphenous vein in heart surgeries. The saphenous vein is still used in coronary bypass surgery. During his research, Favaloro began to determine what factors would allow him to successfully use the saphenous vein to bypass the blocked portion of the artery.

In 1967, Favaloro performed the first coronary bypass surgery. While two other men had already successfully used the saphenous vein for a similar purpose, Favaloro was the first to intentionally do so. Moreover, he was able to reproduce the study; the Clinic was able to perform 171 coronary bypass surgeries in a single year. Favaloro would continue to work on and perfect the surgery, introducing new techniques and technology to improve outcomes.

In 1971, Favaloro decided to return to Argentina and open his own version of the Cleveland Clinic. Known as the Favaloro Foundation, his hospital brought quality healthcare to Latin Americans, oftentimes for free. In addition to providing the best care possible to patients, the Favaloro Foundation also served as a school for medical students and a research institution. Thousands of patients were treated and hundreds of doctors were trained at his foundation; the foundation is still regarded as one of the most influential hospitals in the region.

By 2000, despite its apparent success, Favaloro’s foundation was struggling financially, which many credit to Argentina’s economic downturn. Additionally, Favaloro’s wife, Maria Delgado, had passed away a year before. He had written requesting help from the Argentinian president. However, in another letter, he alleged that the state and other hospitals owed his foundation over $18 million. On July 29, 2000, Favaloro died due to self-inflicted gun wounds.

The Favaloro Foundation still exists in the present day (as of 2022), a testament to Favaloro’s legacy. Despite the countless lives saved thanks to the coronary heart bypass surgery, Favaloro’s bigger legacy may be his foundation, humility, and dedication to students and patients. Rather than staying in the United States and becoming a wealthy doctor, Favaloro returned to Argentina to improve their healthcare system, focusing specifically on poor and rural areas. Favaloro was a strong advocate for universal healthcare and denounced the idea that only the rich deserve access to quality care and treatment.

Favaloro rebuffed the nickname “Father of the Coronary Bypass Surgery” and repeatedly emphasized the importance of collaboration in the medical field. In general, he downplayed or ignored the awards he received, emphasizing the fact that he did not see any of his accomplishments as solely his. Despite this, his influence on the medical field is undeniable. His international reputation still focuses on his contributions to the field of coronary surgery, as seen through the July 12, 2019 Google Doodle, which featured Favaloro alongside a heart. However, his domestic reputation recognizes the contributions he made to Argentina through the Favaloro Foundation, as demonstrated by the various songs written about him by Argentinian bands. In 1987, he received the Special Achievement Award by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. He was awarded the Golden Plate Award by the Academy of Achievement in the 1990s. In 1993, he received the Diamond Konex Award for his contributions to medicine in Argentina. He also received honorary degrees and awards from various institutions internationally.


Michele Lew

Last updated: 11/30/2022

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