TAMPA - When Dr. Enrique Lopez-Cuenca wasn't performing surgeries in Tampa, he went international to operate around the clock. The cardiovascular surgeon of Tampa General Hospital and St. Joseph's Hospital often traveled to Mexico on the weekends to perform heart surgery.
"He would fly out on a Friday, go to the operating suite, and operate around the clock," said Dr. Eric Harrison, Dr. Lopez's colleague at TGH. "Then he'd fly back Sunday and be back at work on Monday."
Dr. Lopez died Friday (Aug. 22, 2003) of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 59.
Dr. Lopez specialized in the MAZE procedure, an operation that brings a patient's heartbeat back to normal speed. In addition he conducted mitral valve repair, bypass surgeries and transmyocardial laser revascularization.
It was by accident that Lopez landed his first position in cardiovascular surgery.
After Dr. Lopez graduated from the University of Mexico Medical School, Harrison said, he went to a medical center in search of any work he could find.
"He got off the elevator at the wrong floor and ended up doing heart surgery on animals," Harrison said.
Dr. Lopez was given a test. He had to perform heart surgery on a dog and if it lived, he would be given a job. Needless to say, Dr. Lopez passed.
Dr. Lopez completed his cardiovascular surgery training at the University of Oregon Medical School. In 1973, he moved to South Tampa and operated on thousands of adults and hundreds of children and also earned a clinical associate professorship at the University of South Florida.
Harrison said Dr. Lopez would often visit his Mexico. There he would screen children for heart disease and would transport them for operations.
"He was probably one of the most devoted persons I've met in life," said Julia Meaney, Dr. Lopez's sister-in-law. "Even with his disease he never thought of himself."
Dr. Lopez performed his last operation in December after he was diagnosed with ALS.
He is survived by his wife, Rio; son, Enrique Patrick; and two brothers and two sisters. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the ALS Foundation. Funeral services will be at noon Wednesday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church. A viewing is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Gonzalez Funeral Home.