René Favaloro was born and raised in the city of La Plata. His parents were Juan Manuel Favaloro, a carpenter and cabinetmaker by profession, and Ida Raffaelli, a dressmaker. His maternal grandmother transmitted to him her love for nature and the excitement of seeing when the seeds began to bear fruit. Later René would dedicate his doctoral thesis to her: “To my grandmother Cesárea, who taught me to see beauty even in a poor dry branch.”
Favaloro completed primary school at school No. 45 in La Plata where, currently, there is a mural in his memory. In 1936 he began his secondary studies at the Rafael Hernández National School, and then entered the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the National University of La Plata. In the third year he began his internship at the Polyclinic Hospital and there he began to make contact with patients for the first time. Then, without the program requiring such action, he returned in the afternoons to monitor his progress and talk to them.
René observed the sixth year students of Rodolfo Rossi or Egidio Mazzei, who were full professors at the Medical Clinic, and also witnessed the surgeries of José María Mainetti and Federico E. B. Christmann, who taught him simplification and standardization techniques that he would later apply in the cardiovascular surgery, being its contribution to operations of the heart and large arteries.
In the two years in which he practically lived in the Hospital, Favaloro did not want to waste that experience and obtained a general overview of all the pathologies and treatments, but, above all, he learned to respect and know the patients, most of them of condition. humble.
Everything suggested that his future lay there, in the Polyclinic Hospital. In 1949, as soon as he received it, there was a vacancy for an assistant doctor. He accepted the position on an interim basis and a few months later they called him to confirm it. They asked him to fill out a card with his information, but in the last line he had to affirm that he accepted the government's doctrine. Favaloro did not accept that condition, since his qualifications were more than enough merit to obtain the position. And that requirement was humiliating for him coming from a background where he had even been part of university movements that fought to maintain a democratic line of freedom and justice in our country, which is why putting his signature on that card meant betraying all his rights. beginning. He replied that he would think about it, but inside he knew clearly what the answer was going to be.
Around that time, a letter arrived from his uncle, from Jacinto Aráuz, a small town in the desert area of La Pampa. There he explained that the only doctor who treated the population, Dr. Dardo Rachou Vega, was sick and needed to travel to Buenos Aires for his treatment. He asked his nephew René to replace him for two or three months. The decision was not easy. But in the end Favaloro came to the conclusion that a few months pass quickly and that, in the meantime, it was possible for the political situation in the country to change.
He arrived in Jacinto Aráuz in May 1950 and there he became friends with Dr. Rachou, whom he would temporarily replace. His illness turned out to be lung cancer and he died a few months later. By then Favaloro had already become involved with the joys and sufferings of that remote region, where the majority of the inhabitants were dedicated to rural tasks.
The life of the residents was very hard. The roads were impassable on rainy days; The heat, wind and sandstone were unbearable in summer and the cold of winter nights were cruel. Favaloro began to take an interest in each of his patients, in whom he tried to see their soul. In this way he was able to get to know the deep cause of his suffering.
Shortly after, his brother, Juan José, also a doctor, joined the clinic. He integrated into the community very soon due to his affable character, his great capacity for work and dedication to his patients. Together they were able to share the work and exchange opinions on the most complicated cases.
During the years that both remained in Jacinto Aráuz, they created a healthcare center and raised the social and educational level of the region. They felt the challenge of alleviating the misery that surrounded them almost as an obligation.
With the help of teachers, church representatives, business employees and midwives, little by little they achieved a change of attitude in the community that allowed them to correct their behaviors. Thus, they made infant mortality almost disappear in the area, reduced infections during childbirth and malnutrition, organized a living blood bank with donors who were available whenever they were needed, and held community talks in which they provided guidelines for health care.
The care center grew and gained notoriety in the area. On some occasion Favaloro reflected on the reasons for that success. He knew that they had proceeded with honesty and with the conviction that the medical act “must be surrounded by dignity, equality, Christian piety, sacrifice, self-denial and renunciation,” in accordance with the professional and humanistic training they had received at the National University of The Silver.
Favaloro always read the latest medical publications with interest and every so often returned to La Plata to update his knowledge. He was shocked by the first cardiovascular interventions: it was the wonder of a new era. Little by little, his enthusiasm for thoracic surgery was reborn in him, while he was giving shape to the idea of ending his practice as a rural doctor and traveling to the United States to do a specialization. He wanted to participate in these new discoveries in medical science. On one of his trips to La Plata he expressed that desire to Professor Mainetti, who advised him that the right place was the Cleveland Clinic.
He was sorry to abandon those twelve years of rural medicine that had given him so much satisfaction, but he in turn thought that upon returning from the United States his contribution to the community could be greater. So he decided to travel to Cleveland and, again, the short time he planned to stay there ended up being a decade.
He worked first as a resident and then as a member of the surgical team, in collaboration with Doctors Donald B. Effler, chief of cardiovascular surgery, F. Mason Sones Jr., in charge of the Cineangiography Laboratory, and William L. Proudfit, head of the Department of Cardiology.
At first most of his work was related to valvular and congenital disease. But his search for knowledge took him down other paths. Every day, as soon as he finished his work in the surgery room, Favaloro spent hours and hours reviewing coronary angiograms, and studying the anatomy of the coronary arteries and their relationship with the heart muscle.
At the beginning of 1967, Favaloro began to think about the possibility of using the saphenous vein in coronary surgery. He put his ideas into practice for the first time in May of that year. The standardization of this technique, called bypass or myocardial revascularization surgery, was the fundamental work of his career, which made his prestige transcend the limits of that country, since the procedure radically changed the history of coronary heart disease. He is detailed in depth in his book “Surgical Treatment on Coronary Arteriosclerosis”, published in 1970 and edited in Spanish under the name “Treatment Surgical de la Arteriosclerosis Coronaria”. Today, between 600,000 and 700,000 such surgeries are performed each year in the United States alone.
Favaloro returned to Argentina, with the idea of developing a center of excellence similar to that of the Cleveland Clinic, which would combine medical care, research and education, as he said in his resignation letter.
He returned in 1971, and began operating at the Güemes Sanatorium, located at 1240 Francisco Acuña de Figueroa Street in the Palermo neighborhood. The Sanatorium was led by Mauricio Barón as president of the institution and by Dr. Luis de la Fuente, as an expert in clinical cardiology and in the emerging invasive cardiology.
Dr. Luis de la Fuente was key to his excellent training in the United States and was essential for Favaloro since he made the clinical diagnoses and coronary catheterizations. Later, in 1999, De la Fuente would be an international pioneer of angioplasty with stent and medication, of the neoartery, the coronary sinus and stem cells; all advances driven by De la Fuente and with Favaloro's dream of developing a center of excellence similar to that of the Cleveland Clinic, which combined medical care, research and education.
One night in the 1970s, in Buenos Aires, a patient invited Favaloro and Luis de la Fuente to dinner at his house. Late in the morning, the idea of setting up a foundation arose. At first Favaloro did not want him to take his last name, but in the words of Dr. De La Fuente "… René has been criticized a lot, because they say he gave himself the name. It is not true: I was responsible: at that time he shone in everyone, and if we wanted to get funds to start the foundation it was a way to attract. He didn't want to. But that night, with four or five wines, he accepted."
In 1975, the Favaloro Foundation was created together with other collaborators and the work that he had been developing since his return to the country was strengthened. One of his greatest pride was having trained more than four hundred and fifty residents from all over Argentina and Latin America. He contributed to raising the level of the specialty for the benefit of patients through countless courses, seminars and conferences organized by the Foundation, among which Cardiology for the Consultant stands out, which takes place every two years.
In 1980, Favaloro created the Basic Research Laboratory, which he financed with his own money for a long period, which, at that time, depended on the Research and Teaching Department of the Favaloro Foundation. Subsequently, it became the Research Institute in Basic Sciences of the University Institute of Biomedical Sciences, which, in turn, gave rise, in August 1998, to the creation of the Favaloro University, located at Av. Entre Ríos 495 in the Balvanera neighborhood.
Currently the university consists of a Faculty of Medical Sciences, where two undergraduate courses are taught: Medicine (started in 1993) and Kinesiology and Physiatry (started in 2000), and a Faculty of Engineering, Exact and Natural Sciences, where They are pursuing three engineering degrees (started in 1999). For its part, the Postgraduate Secretariat developed courses, master's degrees and specialization courses.
The research carried out at this University covers more than thirty fields in which professionals from different disciplines - medicine, biology, veterinary medicine, mathematics, engineering, etc. - work in collaboration with the most important scientific centers in Europe and the United States. More than one hundred and fifty works were published in specialized journals with international arbitration.
In 1992, the Institute of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery of the Favaloro Foundation, a non-profit entity, was inaugurated in Buenos Aires, located at Av. Belgrano 1782 in the Monserrat neighborhood. With the motto “advanced technology at the service of medical humanism,” highly specialized services are provided in cardiology, cardiovascular surgery and heart, lung, cardiopulmonary, liver, kidney and bone marrow transplantation, in addition to other areas. Favaloro concentrated his work there, surrounded by a select group of professionals.
As in the times of Jacinto Aráuz, Favaloro continued to emphasize disease prevention and teach his patients basic rules of hygiene that would contribute to reducing diseases and the mortality rate. With this objective, studies for the detection of diseases, a variety of prevention programs, such as the smoking cessation course, were developed at the Favaloro Foundation, and several publications were made for the general public through the Editorial Center of the Favaloro Foundation. which operated until 2000.
But Favaloro was not satisfied with helping to solve the problems of that basic need that was health in each individual person, but he also wanted to contribute to curing the ills that afflict our society as a whole. He never missed an opportunity to denounce problems such as unemployment, inequality, poverty, arms shortages, pollution, drugs, violence, etc. Convinced that only when you know and become aware of a problem is it possible to remedy it or, even better, prevent it.
Favaloro was an active member of 26 societies, a corresponding member of 4, and an honorary member of 43. He received countless international distinctions, among which the following stand out: the 1979 John Scott Award, awarded by the city of Philadelphia, USA; the creation of the “Dr René G. Favaloro” Chair of Cardiovascular Surgery (Tel Aviv University, Israel, 1980); the distinction of the Conchita Rábago Foundation of Giménez Díaz (Madrid, Spain, 1982); the Master of Argentine Medicine award (1986); the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (1987); The Gairdner Foundation International Award, awarded by the Gairdner Foundation (Toronto, Canada, 1987); the René Leriche Prize 1989, awarded by the International Society of Surgery; the Gifted Teacher Award, awarded by the American College of Cardiology (1992); the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement (1993); the Prince Mahidol Award, awarded by His Majesty the King of Thailand (Bangkok, Thailand, 1999).
He has always maintained that every university student must commit to the society of his time and emphasized: “I would like to be remembered as a teacher more than as a surgeon.” For that reason, he dedicated much of his time to teaching, both professionally and popularly. An example was his participation in educational programs for the population, among which the television series “The Great Medical Issues” stood out, and the numerous conferences he presented in Argentina and abroad, on topics as diverse as medicine, education and the society of our days.
He published “Memories of a Rural Doctor” (1980); “From La Pampa to the United States” (1993) and “Don Pedro and Education” (1994) and more than three hundred works of his specialty. His passion for history led him to write two research and popular books about General San Martín: Do you know San Martín? (1987) and The Memory of Guayaquil (1991).
Favaloro also had a firm position on abortion as a specific public health problem that affects different social strata and expressed it on several occasions.
Around the year 2000, Argentina was immersed in an economic and political crisis. The Favaloro Foundation was in a difficult situation, as a creditor of large debts from PAMI and other social works, and in debt of about 18 million US dollars, so Favaloro asked the Argentine Government for help, without receiving an official response.
“…I am going through one of the most difficult times of my life, the foundation has serious financial problems. In recent times I have become a beggar. My task is to call, knock and knock on doors to raise some money that will allow us to continue…” he declared.
On July 29, 2000, the same day as the birthday of his friend and cardiologist Luis de la Fuente, who had convinced him to return to Argentina, Favaloro locked himself in the bathroom of his house and shot himself in the heart.
After the fatal outcome, it was learned that Favaloro had left seven letters in his apartment. In one of them, addressed to the “competent authorities,” he made it clear that he had decided to take his own life, and explained that the economic crisis that the Favaloro Foundation was going through had been the trigger for his determination, expressing that Argentine society needed his support. death to become aware of the problems in which she was involved.
Since 2002, every July 12 in Argentina the celebration of the National Day of Social Medicine takes place, as a tribute to his birth. The date was established to recognize the importance of his work in that discipline and highlight the need to think about the profession from a humanistic perspective.