HE DECADE OF THE 60S WAS ALMOST OVER. It had
been one of enormous growth in technologies. By 1969, there were
less than 100 hospitals in the entire U.S. providing open-heart
surgery. In keeping with its tradition of service to the community,
CHRISTUS St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur, Texas, was one of those
After many months of training, practice sessions, critique meetings
and education, all the pieces were in place for our first open-heart
surgery patient by August 1969. His name was Manuel Cardenas and
he was a brick mason. Only in his 50s at the time, Mr. Cardenas
was no longer able to work and surgery had become necessary.
a 16-year-old student at the time, there were many aspects of the
surgery that impressed methe equipment, the media “hype,”
and the security surrounding the event. But the one thing that touched
me most was Mr. Cardenas’ faith. This was the single most
tangible exhibit of quiet confidence and pure faith that I had ever
then or now. Until recently, heart surgery was unimaginable.
Survival at that time was questionable. Mortality rates were very
high. There had been so few surgeries performed around the country
and the world that statistics from large patient populations did
not exist. We really did not know exactly what to expect during
and after the procedure. All of this was explained to Mr. Cardenas,
and knowing all of these facts, he was literally placing his life
in our hands.
This is faith
faith in the physicians and staff at CHRISTUS
St. Mary, but moreover, the kind of faith in God that I had never
witnessed before. Mr. Cardenas sincerely felt that if the surgery
resulted in his death, others would benefit by what was learned
from the experience. He had real faith, the likes of which is rarely
seen in today’s world.
The surgery to replace Mr. Cardenas’ aortic valve was successful.
He continued to work as a brick mason for 13 more years, and played
a huge part in the development of the hospital’s open-heart program,
which led the way for others to be helped. But more than that, Mr.
Cardenas showed what it means to live the faith and he should be
remembered for that.
CHRISTUS St. Mary Hospital
Port Arthur, Texas