You may not recognize the name Rene Favaloro, but it’s a safe bet you know someone whose life has been saved by the Argentinian heart surgeon’s pioneering coronary artery bypass surgery.
More than 16 million Americans suffer from coronary heart disease, a condition that occurs when plaque builds up inside arteries supplying blood to the heart muscles. It’s for his development of a procedure that has saved countless lives in the last half century that Google on Friday honored Favaloro with a Doodle on what would’ve been his 96th birthday.
In the 1960s, Favaloro began to explore the benefits of coronary artery bypass surgery, or CABG, to treat these obstructions. Often pronounced “cabbage,” CABG takes arteries or veins from other parts of the body — known as grafts — and uses them to reroute blood flow around a clogged heart artery.
Favarolo’s focus was on using the saphenous vein — located in your leg, it’s the longest in your body — in CABG, and in 1967, he performed what is considered the first successful coronary bypass surgery, on a 51-year-old woman.
Born in 1923 in La Plata, Argentina, Favaloro spent the first 12 years of his medical career as a country doctor. Seeking to improve the general health in the area, he trained nurses, set up a blood bank and built an operating room in the town.
Favaloro’s pioneering work began after he traveled to the US in 1962 and began practicing at Cleveland Clinic. While at the clinic, Favaloro was drawn to the work of Mason Sones, an American physician who did pioneering work in cardiac catheterization. After studying hundreds of Sones’ images of coronary angiograms that were stored in the clinic’s basement, Favaloro became convinced that CABG grafting could be an effective therapy.
He was right. CABG is now performed on nearly 500,000 people each year, reducing the risk of heart attack and relieving chest pain.
Despite his lifesaving procedure, Favaloro always emphasized the value of the team over his personal contribution.
“I have always believed in teamwork. ‘We’ is more important than ‘I,'” he said. “In medicine, the advances are always the result of many efforts accumulated over the years.”
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