Monday, August 8, 2016

Putting Your Life into Perspective

Many of you who read this blog also receive the monthly newsletter, MedStar Research Focus. Each month, when the newsletter is sent out, I share something that is happening in my life and/or at MedStar. Regardless of the topic, the goal is to connect with MedStar Research associates. A number of people outside of MedStar have asked that I share the monthly message on this blog so I will be doing so starting today.  MedStar Research Focus comes out the first Sunday of each month and can be viewed on StarPort.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

You may not know the name ‘Dr. Roberto Canessa’ but I suspect you know his story.

I find it interesting how we may all be consumed by daily routines and often don’t take time to step back and reflect on what is really the most important parts of our lives. It often takes a life event to ‘shock’ us into appreciation of what we have and what our potential can be. Even better is when we have the chance to meet someone special, someone who brings out more in ourselves than they realize. Such was the case for me when I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Roberto Canessa.

In fact, I have known Roberto for a while – he is a pediatric cardiologist from Uruguay with expertise in echocardiography. He is a regular attendee and presenter at our annual cardiology meeting and has made substantial contributions to the field. However, even after knowing him professionally for several years, it was not until last year that I got to know him beyond his professional accomplishments. His life story puts everything in our lives into perspective.

You see, Roberto is passionate about rugby and played on the Uruguay national rugby team when he was a medical student. In October 1972, while traveling with his teammates, their airplane crashed in the Andes. The story became internationally famous with the book and movie Alive. Two months after giving up the search, Roberto shocked the world when he arrived in Chile after hiking across the Andes Mountains for 10 days (with an average temperature of 22 below zero!). Roberto, as the only one with medical experience among the survivors, was also forced to provide care beyond his training and guide the others to employ controversial methods to stay alive.

Forty years later, he is a remarkably gracious, humble, generous man, who loves his family and cherishes his friends. While he remains passionate about rugby (and his son has also played on the national team), he is also passionate about his work – from caring for a sick child with heart disease to building a leading heart hospital that serves a broad community of needs. When I asked him why, after all he has been through, he keeps pushing and working so hard to further expand the quality of care in Uruguay, he simply states: “Because that is what is important in life – the love of those close to me and the love of my community I serve.”

It is summer time. Hopefully you are getting a chance to enjoy time with those you love and take a well deserved break. Perhaps you will soon start to think about ‘back to school’ and plan for fall activities. While all of that is very important, take a moment to let Roberto’s experience allow you to appreciate the work we do at MedStar, touching one life at a time when they need it most while also advancing health of our community through research, education and innovation.


P.S. Dr. Canessa recently came out with a book entitled “I Had to Survive” ( and I am very proud that he included a picture from last year, when I had the privilege of presenting him an honorary award.

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