Dr. Favaloro received numerous honors. But he took pains not to overstate his accomplishment, telling anyone who asked that he had simply built on the work of others before him and that in any case he had not acted alone. “I do not talk in the form ‘I,’ “ Dr. Favaloro said in an interview in 1992. “At the Cleveland Clinic, we were a team.”
Dr. Favaloro did not remain to cash in on his fame. Four years after the operation, he returned to Argentina.
Rene Geronimo Favaloro was born on July 14, 1923, the son of Juan B. Favaloro and Ida Y. Raffaelli. The lone member of the family to have a university education, according to The Times of London, was an uncle who was a doctor, and Rene was inspired to follow his path.
After graduating from medical school, he agreed to fill in for several months for an ailing country surgeon in Jacinto Arauz, an impoverished village 300 miles west of the capital. Twelve years passed before he made his way to the Cleveland Clinic where, despite lacking some credentials, he was taken on as, essentially, an apprentice, according to Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, co-chairman of the heart center at the clinic.
The lessons of his rural practice were never lost on him. He once told The San Diego Union Tribune that he thought that all doctors in Latin America should be required to work among the poor.
“They would be able to see the combination of dirt and fumes,” he said. “The people have only one room where they cook, they live, they make love, where they have their children, where they eat.”
When Dr. Favaloro returned to Argentina, he set to work raising money for a $55 million heart clinic. After it was completed in the early ’90s, he treated thousands of patients, often for no charge, and trained hundreds of surgeons.