Phoenix cardiologist Dr. Alberto Benchimol, who helped develop the Valley’s medical research culture when he arrived in 1966, passed away on March 30.
He leaves behind a rich legacy of personal relationships and countless lives saved through his thriving central Phoenix practice, which he retired from at age 81 in 2013.
Benchimol’s private practice was housed in the shadow of the emerging downtown medical campus that his pioneering medical research played a key role in developing.
“I personally was honored to have met and worked with this very well-respected physician,” said Dr. Nathan Laufer, founder and medical director of the Heart and Vascular Center of Arizona. “He will be missed by his patients and the many physicians whose lives he touched.”
Finding his way to Phoenix
Benchimol was born in the Brazilian Amazon and attended medical school in Rio de Janeiro. He completed his residency at the University of Kansas Medical Center in the 1950s and conducted groundbreaking research under Dr. E. Grey Dimond in the Institute for Cardio-Pulmonary Diseases at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation of La Jolla, Calif. in the early 1960s.
He arrived in Phoenix from La Jolla.
“Dr. Benchimol and his research team have set as their goal the task of making the tell-tale heart tell more about itself than it ever has before,” an Arizona Republic article in 1967 wrote.
Building a medical community
Today’s world-class, multi-billion dollar medical campus in downtown Phoenix, with the ongoing expansion of Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix at its heart, has roots that can be traced back to a burst of civic-medical activity more than 50 years ago. That included the founding of Good Samaritan Hospital’s Institute for Cardiovascular Diseases under the ambitious directorship of Benchimol.
An ArizonaRepublic article in April 1967 titled “Big-Time Medicine Comes to Arizona” reported how the young cardiologist was busy making Phoenix a national center for disseminating the most advanced technological developments and training in the rapidly developing fields of cardiovascular research.
The article noted how Benchimol organized a major postgraduate seminar that year hosted by the Institute as part of its recently established resident research fellowship program, which brought “more than 100 doctors from across the nation” to the Valley to discuss technological advances being made in the battle against heart disease, then approaching its peak fatality rate in the U.S.
This research consisted of the “sounds made by the heart, the visible recordings made of them, and the techniques, instruments and conditions by which, with which, and in which they are made useful for diagnostic purposes.”
The fellowship program demonstrated how the Valley sought to become a national and international hub for advanced medical research, “train(ing) doctors in all the newest aspects relating to the diagnosis, treatment, care, surgery and research pertaining to heart disease.”
The civic value of Benchimol’s research and educational activities was formally recognized in his 1968 award as a “Builder of a Greater Arizona” by a panel of judges from the Arizona Newspapers Association and Arizona Association of Broadcasters, which described him as “one of the foremost authorities on heart disease in the United States” with “world-wide recognition” of “his research” as “chairman of the U.S. section of a recent international conference on advances in cardiac pacemakers.”
Leaving a legacy
While leaving a substantial personal research legacy in cardiology and cardiography, including the publication of five books and countless articles for leading medical journals in the U.S. and Europe, it is Benchimol’s educational legacy through the Institute — which he directed from 1966 until 1982 — that stands out, with its decisive impact on advanced medical research in the Valley at a crucial phase of its development.
“He started the Cardiology Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital as well as the Cardiology Fellowship Teaching Program. This program was and continues to be responsible for training many of the cardiologists from the 1960’s to the present day. These trainees, many of whom are still practicing in Phoenix, owe their careers to the hard work and dedication of their mentor, Dr. Alberto Benchimol,” Laufer said.
From his Phoenix base, Benchimol scaled the heights of professional medical accomplishment in the 1960s and 1970s, serving on the editorial boards of leading medical journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association, the American Journal of Cardiology and the American Heart Journal.
“He was instrumental in the development of vector cardiography and cardiac catheterization. His numerous research papers in most aspects of cardiology put Phoenix on the map nationally and internationally as a cardiac center for higher learning and research,” Laufer said.
Alex Benchimol, who is a senior lecturer of English literature in Glasgow, Scotland, is the son of Alberto Benchimol.
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