By Julia Webster
July 12, 2019

René Favaloro, a pioneering Argentine heart surgeon, is being remembered with a Google Doodle for his contributions to coronary bypass surgery on what would have been his 96th birthday.

Born in La Plata, Argentina, in 1923, Favaloro started his career as a doctor in the farming community of Jacinto Arauz, where he built his own operating room, trained nurses and set up a local blood bank.

In 1962 he moved to the United States where he pioneered coronary bypass surgery, a technique used to restore blood flow to the heart when the vessel supplying it is blocked.

Today, coronary artery bypass surgery is one of the most common operations. Doctors performed 213,700 in the U.S. in 2011.

Arteries can become blocked with plaque that builds up in the vessel walls, and this can cause chest pain or a heart attack if the vessel is blocked completely. Though this can happen in any part of the body, it is most dangerous in the coronary artery, which supplies the heart muscle.

Favaloro developed a method using a vein from the leg, implanting it to bypass the blockage in the coronary artery. He performed the first operation of this kind on a 51 year-old woman at the Cleveland Clinic in 1967. The historic operation was a success and the procedure has saved countless lives since then.

Favaloro returned to Argentina in 1971 to establish a foundation for medical research and education, where he trained hundreds of surgeons himself.

He took his own life on July 29, 2000 at the age of 77. The day before his death he sent a letter to then-Argentine President Fernando de la Rúa (who died three days ago) asking him for help to secure funding for his foundation, which had become mired in debt as a result of a national economic crisis.

Reflecting on his legacy, Favaloro wrote: “‘We’ is more important than ‘I’. In medicine, the advances are always the result of many efforts accumulated over the years.”

Today his Foundation continues to attend patients based on their medical needs rather than their ability to pay and teaches Favaloro’s techniques to doctors across Latin America.

If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.

Write to Julia Webster at julia.webster@time.com.

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