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Mauricio Duarte: I owe a lot to the Leningrad Medical Institute of Pediatrics

Dr. Luis Mauricio Duarte Vergara is recognized as one of the best specialists in Pediatric Surgery in Bucaramanga, Colombia. It was he who founded the first intensive care unit for newborns in the city. For more than 20 years he taught medicine at the largest university in the east of the country – Industrial University of Santander. And to this day, despite his not very young age, he continues to work in two hospitals. He performs more than 100 operations a year.

He is emeritus member of the Colombian Society of pediatric surgery, member of the National Academy of Medicine, President Magistrate of the Medical Ethics Court in Santander .

It's hard to believe, but this man had received fundamental knowledge in the field of medicine on the other side of the world. In far 1976 he was one of the few who came to the USSR from Colombia, a country not very friendly towards the Soviet system.

Mauricio Duarte graduated from Leningrad Medical Institute of Pediatrics in 1979. But, despite the fact that more than 40 years have passed since then, he perfectly remembers the city, his studies and teachers. In his speech, Russian words slip through, including medical terms. Mauricio Duarte gratefully says that he owes everything he has achieved in life to his alma-mater.

– Why did you come to the decision to become a doctor? And why did you get to the USSR?

– For all the time I wanted to become a doctor, to help people, to help children. I went to USSR to study pediatric surgery. It was a special plan of the Colombia government and the Soviet Union to make some exchanges. We sent to you students, and you sent to our country automobiles «Lada». That’s way I came to Soviet Russia in 1976. But I already was a doctor here in Colombia. I did my undergraduate studies at the Javeriana University. At the Leningrad Medical Institute of Pediatrics I completed an advanced course at the Department of Pediatric Surgery. The Dean of Foreign Students was doctor Papayan. Girey Bairov was my professor.

– What was your impression of the Soviet Russia?

– Everything was new for me. I didn’t know anything about Russian language. The Institute sent me to a special professor of Russian language for three months. I learned the language a little. Up to that time I began to work in the hospital. There was a big impression, as I came from a capitalist country to a socialist country. The first six months were very difficult. Fortunately I found a Colombian student of medicine in that institute. His name is Edgar Aviles. He helped me so much. For the first time he was my guide in Russia. It was very interesting. I was in «ordinatura» (the residence) for three years. And each year I had «kanikuly» (vacation) and visited Tallin, Riga, Vilnus, Erevan. I loved Leningrad, it’s a very nice city, with good transport system – the metro, «tramvay» (the tram), «avtobus» (the bus). I have only good memories of the city, of people. Leningrad is a very big city, a very nice city, a very interesting city. Two years ago I visited St.Petersburg and saw, how it had changed. It’s an interesting contrast. We visited my «obshchezhitiye» (dormitory). I also wanted to visit clinic, but all the doors were locked, I couldn’t get in. In «obshchezhitiye» they permitted me to go in. I found out, that the living conditions are much better now. For example, in 70-s we didn’t have hot water. I had to go to «banya» (the bathhouse) once a week to wash myself.

 – What about the Russian winter?

– The problem was the snow. I didn’t know it, as I lived in Colombia. I came to Leningrad in September. Of course, I didn’t have any dress for cold time. From the Institute they sent me with the teacher to the Gostiny Dvor to buy something to wear: «palto» (a coat), «shapka» (a cap), «sharf» (a scarf) – everything for the first time.

– And what can you say about Russian school of medicine?

– All what can I say, is that what I am now is due to the Pediatric Institute. In 70-s it was another city, another country, another politics. But all, what I am as a specialist, all, what I know – It’s because of the Soviet Union and the Leningrad Medical Institute of Pediatrics. My works in pediatrics, in the pediatric surgery were written because of my teachers. So I love my alma-mater.

– What practical skills did you acquire during your study in the USSR?

– I performed operations on newborns with professor Bairov. Knew something about urology – I don’t like urology, but I learned urology. And surgery of emergency conditions – appendicitis, «atreziya pishchevoda» (esophageal atresia), duodenal atresia.

– What can you say about Girey Bairov, who was your teacher?

– Professor Bairov was a gentleman, a real gentleman, always hear me and tried to understand my Russian language, and with patience teach me and answer almost all my questions. Already passed more than 40 years, but I remember how he passed from one operating room to another, teach how to do a special maneuver or to place a stitch, with a big facility. Also hear his conferences were very interesting, of course I couldn't understand everything, but it was a really great experience.

– How were you met at home?

– Here in Colombia, some thought that if I left for the USSR, I would return from there as a communist. I left when there was a Cold War. All people who traveled to the Soviet Union were considered communists who came to carry on propaganda. It was very hard to me – to us, not many people – to work in medicine. We were good doctors, without politics. I’m not communist, not socialist. But I couldn't get a job for seven months, here in Colombia, doing nothing, only because of I have returned from the USSR. Now, of course, everything is not so, everything is easy between both countries and there is no problems.

– And what about your job now?

– I am a pediatric surgeon at the San Luis Clinic and the Santander University Hospital. I work with kids, from several days, up to 18 years old. I love to work with newborns. I have established the first intensive care unit for newborns here in Bucaramanga: found out the equipment, the incubators, the ventilators. I found an American family, who worked with me and who agreed to bring all the medical equipment to Bucaramanga. We opened the first pediatric ICU, it was in 1986. It was a very difficult work, cause we didn’t have intensive care unit before. And now we have a big one and a good one.

– I know that you were also a professor at the Industrial University of Santander. Tell us about your scientific work.

- I was the president of the Pediatric Surgery society from 1990 to 1992. Twenty years ago I had full time published articles in all the main conferences. I have spoken on the conferences in Argentina, in Dominican Republic, in Panama, in Chili. I met the National congress of pediatric surgery here in Bucaramanga, where came specialist from all over the world – USA, Mexica, Spain etc. I have some publications in Latin American journals on the topic of surgery – about appendicitis, duodenal atresia and so on. I participate in different events – we have here in Colombia National congress of pediatric surgery, I have two works that were published there. A doctor from Russia is going to visit the next national congress.

– Maybe you are going to visit Russia again?

– Right now it’s difficult. But I wanted to return to my hospital, because during the last visit I could not get there. I also would love to have a chat with someone I studied with. I had many friends in the USSR, but when I left there was no Internet and social networks. I tried to find someone, but it's hard to do after all this time. If someone suddenly responds, I will be very happy.


By the way

Bucaramanga, where our hero lives, is a big city near Venezuela. It’s is the sixth largest city in Colombia after Bogota. It’s estimated population is about 581 thousands inhabitants. The city was founded in 1622, but actively expanded only in the 1960s, mostly into neighboring locations. The Bucaramanga Metropolitan Area now has more than 1,1 million inhabitants. The city has a good reputation due to its numerous universities. Industrial University of Santander (Universidad Industrial de Santander) is among them. UIS is the largest higher education institution and is regarded as one of the leading multidisciplinary research universities in Colombia. UIS has one of the higher academic outputs from Colombian universities. Since its foundation it had developed innovative research in the field of engineering, basic sciences, and medicine.

Albert Vazgenovich Papayan (1936 – 2002) – an outstanding pediatrician. Graduated from the Leningrad Medical Institute of Pediatrics in 1961. From 1963 to 1966 he studied in graduate school at the Department of Hospital Pediatrics, LPMI, headed by Academician Aleksandr Tur. He was the head of the Department of Faculty Pediatrics from 1974 to 2002. In 1974 professor Papayan was appointed chief pediatric nephrologist of Leningrad. He devoted a lot of effort and energy to the organization of a specialized pediatric nephrological service and the development of pediatric nephrology in Russia. Under the leadership of Papayan, scientific research on topical problems of nephrology, hematology, pulmonology, immunogenetics were carried out. At the Institute, professor Papayan also headed the work of the dean's office of foreign students, faculty of advanced training of teachers, was the vice-rector for international relations.

Girey Alievich Bairov (1922 - 1999) – famous pediatric surgeon. He was born in the family of a school teacher. In 1938 Girey Bairov entered the medical institute and continued his studies during the Great Patriotic War. In 1943 he graduated from high school and went to the front as a military doctor. In 1945, he came to Leningrad, where he first worked as a surgeon at one of the children's clinics. Soon Professor Alexander Shatsky drew attention to him and offered the position of laboratory assistant in his department. From that moment life of Bairov was closely connected with the Leningrad Medical Institute of Pediatrics. In 1954 he defended his Ph.D. thesis, and already he proved to be a completely extraordinary surgeon. He was the first to successfully operate a child with atresia of the esophagus, and even with a tracheo-esophageal fistula. Heading the Department of Pediatric Surgery, Bairov essentially assumed the responsibility for organizing a unified pediatric surgery service in Leningrad. Bairov stood at the origins of the creation in Leningrad of a unified service for pediatric anesthesiology, resuscitation and emergency care in pediatrics.

Date of publication: 18.08.2020

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