Shooting the breeze with Dr. Francisco Sanchez, cardiothoracic surgeon

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, meeting and talking to surgeons in different countries can be anxiety-producing at times.. Other times, just plain interesting and enjoyable.

It was the latter during my conversations with Dr. Francisco Sanchez Garido  and his colleague, Dr. Geraldo Victoria.  (We talked about Dr. Victoria in a previous post.)

At 71, Dr. Sanchez has seen and experienced volumes; in medicine, surgery and in life.  We talked about all three of these during my visit – including some of his ‘war stories’ of yesteryear.

These included actual stories of war – such as trying to take care of the gravely wounded American GIs during the  December 1989 military invasion of Panama (Operation: Just Cause), when he was working at the Gorgas Army Hospital at the Howard Military Base.

 Dr. Sanchez talked about the difficulties of trying to save the GIs who parachuted in (and immediately became fodder for Noriega’s troops).

He also reflected on the fifteen years he spent training in the United States.  He attended medical school at the University of Oklahoma, and completed both his residencies in the US at George Washington University prior to returning to Panama in 1972.  He studied with a famous surgeon from the Cleveland Clinic  as well as hosting multiple visits by American cardiac surgeons,  Dr. Denton Cooley and Dr. Michael DeBakey (among others).  These included one ignoble attempt to convert a Panamanian hospital into the private operating room suite for the ailing Shah of Iran.  He laughed a bit when he explained how the illustrious Dr. DeBakey attempted to bluster his way into taking over the hospital but were foiled by Dr. Sanchez and his team, resulting in the Shah traveling to Cairo for his ill-fated surgery for lymphoma. (See the linked articles for more information about the fateful travels of an ailing ruler).

As he explained, “They just wanted to use our hospital [to perform a spleenectomy on the Shah] – and leave.  They didn’t want our help or involvement.  But you can’t just operate on someone and then go home.”  As it turns out – his concerns were warranted, as the Shah experienced surgical complications after surgery in Egypt, and his surgeons were long gone, leaving his care to people previously un-involved in his care. (Ultimately, the Shah died four months after surgery – closing a chapter in Iranian history and ending the controversies regarding his treatment).

These stories are, of course, just minor tales in the long career of one of Panama’s first heart surgeons.

Dr. Francisco Sanchez Garido, cardiothoracic surgeon

Dr. Francisco Sanchez Garido, cardiothoracic surgeon

Dr. Geraldo Victoria and Dr. Francisco Sanchez, cardiothoracic surgeons

I am currently writing another article about Dr. Geraldo Victoria for but I wanted to tell readers a bit about these two very nice, and charming surgeons. (I will also be re-posting this article at a sister site). Dr. Victoria graciously invited me to spend even more time with them, but I had a minor injury yesterday and had to defer.

Dr. Geraldo Victoria and Dr. Francisco Sanchez, cardiothoracic surgeons

Dr. Geraldo Victoria and Dr. Francisco Sanchez, cardiothoracic surgeons

It’s always a bit nerve-wracking to meet and talk to surgeons but Dr. Victoria was very welcoming, and friendly.  He readily answered my questions and told me about his practice.

Dr. Victoria is primarily Spanish-speaking but does speak some English.

He showed me around his offices at both Hospital San Tomas and Punto Pacifico while talking about his work.  He is a Professor of Surgery at Hospital Santo Tomas – which is the primary teaching facility in Panama City.  He also operates as a general surgeon there.

His practice is a mix of cardiac, thoracic, vascular, endovascular and general surgery.  He attended medical school and completed the majority of his training in Caracas, Venezuela at the Luis Razetti School of Medicine  – University of Central Venezuela.  He completed his general surgery and specialty fellowship training at the University Hospital of Caracas (Hospital Universidad de Caracas) before completing additional training sessions in cardiac (Texas Heart) and endovascular surgery in New Orléans, La.

He reports that prior to 1992, the majority of patients in Panama travelled to the United States and other countries for cardiac surgery.  Since then cardiac surgery volumes have increased.  Since rheumatic fever remains problematic in Panama, he has a large volume of patients with rheumatic heart disease.

His thoracic practice largely consists of trauma surgery – from penetrating trauma (guns, knives) and hemothoraces as is typical of many surgical practices in large urban areas.   He also sees cases of empyema (infected pleural space around the lung) with several cases involving multi-drug resistant strains of Klebsiella.

Contrary to many vascular surgery practices I have encountered in Latin America, Dr. Victoria has a thriving peripheral arterial disease (PAD) practice. In fact, I was able to see him in action in the cath lab as he performed arteriography on a patient with persistent intermitten claudication (despite medical management).


Since this post is becoming quite lengthy – I will talk about Dr. Sanchez in the next post.