Dr. Rene smiling, looking out of frame, wearing a medical cap and uniform

“The patient is more than an illness,” said Dr. René Favaloro, who pioneered coronary bypass surgery. “He has a soul.” |Photo: Cleveland Clinic Archives | Colorized by Sanna Dullaway

He came from Argentina, a self-described “country physician” who launched his career in an impoverished village.

When the letters that he fired off in hopes of furthering his training at Cleveland Clinic went unanswered, he showed up unannounced in Cleveland. George “Barney” Crile Jr., MD, persuaded Donald Effler, MD, head of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, to take a chance on the persistent stranger.

In short order, Dr. René Favaloro worked his way up at Cleveland Clinic from observer to resident to chief resident. By 1966, he was appointed full staff.

The following year, colleagues came to Dr. Favaloro with a challenge: Could he restore blood flow to the heart of a patient with a potentially deadly coronary artery blockage?

The onetime country physician was up to the task. After the heart was stopped, he removed a section of vein from the patient’s leg, sewed one end to the aorta and sewed the other end to the artery, beyond the blockage. The bypass was a success.

Surgeons elsewhere laid claim to similar operations, but Dr. Favaloro was the first to perform planned coronary bypass surgery and publish the results. Nonetheless, he was modest about the monumental achievement.

“I do not talk in the form ‘I,’” Dr. Favaloro told a reporter many years later. “At the Cleveland Clinic, we were a team.”

photo of Dr. Favaloro and Dr. Sones

Dr. Favaloro (left) used to spend hours in the office of F. Mason Sones, MD, studying films of coronary arteries. | Photo: Cleveland Clinic Archives