Freddy Pérez Cabrera
ON her tenth birthday, Yanet Melián Castillo imagined having a quince, a really lovely 15th birthday party surrounded by friends, taking lots of pictures in the white dress she had always dreamed of. The vision, however, began to fade every time she felt short of breath or terribly tired, as a result of a heart condition diagnosed years earlier during a medical examination.
In order to save her life, the only option was surgery, performed November 4, 1986 by the doctors Ismael Alejo, Alvaro Lagomasino, Arturo Iturralde and other specialists. It was a success and her dreams of a quinceañera came true.
She was the first child to receive heart surgery at the Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter, which on July 26th celebrated its 25th anniversary.
CUBA’S PREMIERE CARDIAC CENTER
The Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter, in Santa Clara, owes its existence to Fidel’s determination and concern for the people’s health. His efforts to develop cardiology across Cuba, not only in Havana, led to the conception of institutions such as this, which would provide treatment for patients in the central region of the country.
Previously, a multidisciplinary team led by the surgeons Daniel Codorniú Pruma, Ismael V. Alejo Mena and Arturo Iturralde Espinosa, as well as anesthesiologist Ignacio Fajardo Egozcue, had performed a few surgeries, beginning in the mid-1970’s.
Encouraged by these first successes, preparation of the cardiovascular surgery team in Santa Clara began. After several years of training, the Santa Clara Cardiovascular Surgical Services Center was inaugurated in July of 1986, with just six beds and a promising future.
Since then, the institution has progressed considerably on the scientific research front and has an impressive record of success medically, merits which have established the Center as one of the most prestigious in the country’s public health system.
The figures speak for themselves. Over the last 25 years, the lives of more than 6,000 people have been saved, among them, more than 700 children, with an overall survival rate of 95%, reaching 99% for children. Such success could only have been attained with a team of highly skilled doctors, anesthesiologists, nurses and other professionals in place.
Currently, the Santa Clara cardiology center performs almost all procedures involving cardiovascular surgery, cardiac interventions and cardiac electrophysiology. In the case of cardiac interventions, more than 1,500 examinations and 400-500 procedures are performed yearly.
• IF one doctor symbolizes the stature of the collective working at the Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter, it is Alvaro Lagomasino Hidalgo, a doctor and quixotic figure to whom thousands of Cubans owe their lives.
I have had the privilege of being at his side in the operating room and can attest to the fact that, when he enters the operating room, he is transformed and capable of forgetting everything else around him, in order to concentrate on what is most important, the patient’s life. That is why he compares performing surgery to a journey into space, or what going to church might be like for a devote believer.
Despite having participated in 60% of the 6,984 operations which have been performed at the Center, he goes about his work in the most natural way, without any pretensions.
This is very much a result of his upbringing. He grew up listening to his father talk about [Simón] Bolívar. Then the legend of Che emerged and he became the young man’s idol. When he came into contact with Hemingway’s work and read For Whom the Bell Tolls, he wanted to follow in the author’s footsteps. What’s more, when I ask about the picture of La Gioconda, known as the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, hanging in his office, Alvaro Lagomasino tells me that the painter led him to another one of his passions.
This modest, and this great, is Dr. Lagomasino, who, just like any other worker at the Center, is capable of attending to the needs of all of his patients with the same degree of passion.
The great successes of the Santa Clara center over the last 25 years are due to his efforts and those of his colleagues. Accomplishments which include the first heart surgery performed outside of Havana and the introduction of open heart surgery, as well as multiple arterial grafts, among other procedures.