Congenital Heart Disease Pioneer Reflects on a Lifetime of Achievements | Cardiology Magazine
Profile | “One of these days I should retire I suppose,” says Aldo Castañeda, MD, PhD, FACC, sitting in his office, having just finished recalling some of the more prevalent memories of his life as a cardiologist.
For over half a century Castañeda has spent his days mending tiny broken hearts, hearts affected by complex, congenital defects that once condemned countless children to lives that were all too brief and needlessly tragic.
At 84 years old, Castañeda became the most recent recipient of the ACC’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award. Born in Italy and raised in Germany — spending World War II living as an “enemy foreigner” in Munich — Castañeda eventually relocated to his parents’ native country of Guatemala, beginning his education in medicine at the University of Guatemala Medical School. Upon graduation, Castañeda went on to complete his surgical and cardiothoracic residencies at the University of Minnesota, which at the time in the 1950s was performing the world’s first open heart surgeries. “The entire field of open heart surgery was created with congenital heart disease in mind,” says Castañeda. “It was not for acquired heart disease in those days.”
Eventually recruited to Boston Children’s Hospital in 1972, Castañeda served as the center’s chief of cardiovascular surgery and surgeon-in-chief for 24 years. In 1983, he helped pioneer the arterial switch operation for transposition of the great arteries in neonates. “I remember having to talk to the parents and tell them that it had never been done before in humans,” says Castañeda. “I explained to them that there were other operations available but that there were shortcomings because although they would improve the circulation, it did not create a normal anatomy. What we were proposing was to re-establish a normal anatomy. Fortunately it worked very well from the beginning.”
Currently living back in Guatemala, Castañeda has helped found and establish UNICARP Hospital, the first pediatric cardiac surgical unit in the country. “I thought I could be useful here,” says Castañeda of his continued dedication to cardiac care and training a new generation of physicians. “Here it’s difficult of course with the economics. We operate on people for nothing and to get money it’s difficult, but we’ve done about 5,000 operations so far, and we’re trying to get money to do more.”
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