By Emily Moore
23 Jan

Remembering Dr. Francis Fontan

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

When you lose someone you didn’t know personally but who has made such an impact in your life, it can be an odd mix of emotions. There is sadness, of course, but maybe even a sense of loneliness. Simply said—they will be missed, and you miss them deeply—even if you’d never spoken to the person.

When someone like Dr. Francis Fontan dies, the world is silent for a moment. For me, I felt this sense of sorrow. I thought “Wow, this man is pretty much the reason I am alive today, and I never got to say thank you.” There is this sense of gratefulness mixed with grief.

When we look at death, although sad, I think it’s important to also look at the opposite—life. Dr. Fontan’s passing is a very sad one; we’ve lost a true hero, a legend. But his legacy and his life will live on. All of us CHDers who had the Fontan procedure are living proof of this.

Look at all the amazing things Dr. Fontan has accomplished in his 89 years. Trained in both surgery and cardiology, he was the man who created what has saved so many of our lives today, the Fontan procedure. It is used in pediatric patients who possess only a single functional ventricle, like those of us with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, hypoplastic right heart syndrome, pulmonary atresia, and tricuspid or mitral atresia. The Fontan was first performed on April 25, 1968 and first described in medical journals in 1971. Click here for an article published in Classics in Thoracic Surgery about the history of the procedure.

In his 89 years, Dr. Fontan helped to add so many more years onto all the lives of us all that had the procedure. Because of his life, we now get to have more birthdays and get to live fuller and longer lives.  It’s an overwhelming feeling to think that around 50 years ago, Dr. Fontan created a surgery that would eventually be the reason I am alive today.

So, to Dr. Fontan, on behalf of the CHD community and Fontan patients, thank you. Our lives depended on your work and you did not let us down. You will be dearly missed, but never ever forgotten. Because I know when someone asks me what type of surgery I had, I always say “the Fontan procedure”—and that will live on forever.

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