A world-famous pediatric cardiologist tells how surviving a plane crash in the high Andes led to a lifelong commitment to helping children overcome congenital heart defects.
In the fall of 1972, Canessa was a second-year medical student and member of the Uruguayan national rugby team. One afternoon, he and his rugby teammates were on a flight bound for Chile when their plane suddenly lost altitude and crashed in the Andes Mountains. (The story was the inspiration for the film Alive.) Canessa and others who survived immediately banded together into a “single organism” to face the task of tending to the injured, the dying, and the dead and making what was left of their airplane into a habitable shelter. In the midst of subzero temperatures, snowstorms, and avalanches, the survivors began to consider how they could escape from what quickly began to feel like an “icy sarcophagus.” First, the group attempted to fix their damaged plane radio to try to communicate with air rescue brigades. But after days of work, they could only hear “garbled, hissing static that never turned into words.” Forced into eating the flesh of those who had died to maintain their strength, the young men hatched a desperate plan for escape that involved Canessa and one other man climbing down the mountain to seek help. What makes this gripping narrative especially poignant is the way the author intercuts the memories of his experiences with the stories of those who lived through this ordeal with him, as well as those of the children he eventually helped as a doctor. For Canessa, emerging alive from that “sinister proving ground” high in the Andes marked a coming to consciousness of the true nature of survival and healing. By becoming a pediatric cardiologist, he could save the lives of the truly helpless and also honor all those, both living and dead, involved in the traumatic birth of his “second life.”
Readably inspiring from beginning to end.