BUENOS AIRES – Rising above the hustle and bustle of people hurrying around the Pueyrredon subway station in Buenos Aires is the voice of Yamil Ponce, an Argentine cardiovascular surgeon who in his brief time off switches his scalpel for a microphone to become a street tango singer.
Ponce told EFE in an interview that he sleeps four or five hours a day, not at all surprising considering the pace of his life as a husband and father of three children, a surgeon in public and private healthcare, a university professor of medicine, a researcher in nanotechnology, algorithms and artificial intelligence, and as a finishing touch, a once-a-week street artist.
His name gained fame in Argentina when he operated on two foreign tourists who were assaulted in Buenos Aires and almost lost their lives, which he said made him feel even more “responsibility.”
Ponce said the first case occurred on Dec. 8, 2017, when he received in the operating room US citizen Frank Joseph Wolek, whom an assailant had stabbed multiple times including twice in the heart, from which he had the “greatest chances of dying.”
“I apply a surgical technique in these cases, when there are cardiac perforations, that is a little different from what emergency manuals teach us,” the surgeon said.
Over a year later, he still insists that if he hadn’t used his own method, which has worked all seven times he has resorted to it, the tourist “wouldn’t have survived.”
“In Argentina the surgical technique did not seem to interest people as much as the fact that I invited Wolek to dinner at my house on Dec. 31. Something that simple wouldn’t have astonished my grandparents because a lot of doctors used to dine in the homes of their patients and vice versa. Now it’s the cover story of magazine,” the Argentine doctor said.
Last month he also operated on Christoffer Peter, a Swedish tourist who was shot in the leg when they tried to steal his mobile phone.
Ponce was the one who decided to amputate the leg and when he gave Peter the news, he said he couldn’t hold back the tears. But when he tried to hide his face from the patient, the latter took his hand and told him: “Never mind, at least I’m still alive.”
“That was a very important lesson for me, which is that you could have suffered something really terrible as a child, in your infancy, as a teenager or now, but whatever happened is over and done with. As he told me, ‘I don’t have the leg anymore, but I’m not going to cry about it,’” Ponce said.
At any rate, the surgeon and professor thought it “a little unfair” that so much attention was being paid to these two cases when he receives assault victims every Monday while on duty at Argerich Hospital in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of La Boca.
“As in medicine, if you don’t have a good diagnosis, you won’t find a good treatment...If we don’t see that we have a social problem, it will be very hard to find a treatment for it,” the doctor said about violence in Argentina.
Another of Yamil Ponce’s special traits is the close relationship he maintains with all his patients.
A year later, he still talks with the American Frank Joseph Wolek and wants him to come for a visit in the coming months, according to the doctor.
One of the key factors for connecting so well with them is music, since “between one operation and another,” it is what brings them together to play and sing tango, together with Ponce’s pal Leonardo Facundo, with whom he sings every Thursday in the subway.
The musician Facundo got in touch with him after seeing how he sang on YouTube videos, and offered him the chance to perform in bars and theaters – and Ponce accepted, but wanted them to start from “down below.”
The singing surgeon said he likes to perform on the subway because he was brought up “more or less on the streets.”
“I come from a very modest family. I was always somewhere out in public washing people’s cars or taking care of cars as a kid, and I always liked the idea of street artists,” Ponce said.
He has now agreed to take part in a national music festival, but Ponce said this isn’t his big priority, which is rather “to sing in the hospital and make people happy.”