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Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Tampa doctor elevated care for indigent

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It almost slipped by me until I read Ferdie Pacheco's eulogy of his old friend.

Pacheco of course is the "fight doctor" of Muhammad Ali days, but the native Tampan is much more than that with his stories and paintings of Ybor City and its myriad characters.

He had a lifelong friendship with Victor Martinez, a man who would combine his medical expertise with a law degree to help mold Hillsborough County's nationally recognized indigent health care plan.

I only have room for a few excerpts of Pacheco's thoughts about Martinez, but you can find them on his Facebook page. Pacheco writes:

"... Victor saved my life when I had a stroke in Tampa. ... Victor first made an impression on me as a young delivery boy for El Encanto Cleaners. He was sickly, stricken with severe asthma. He was always in bed as a child, but he was indomitable. ... When he came to our house to deliver dry cleaning, he hung around. He seemed to cling to every word I said. ... As I write this I close my eyes and I have a cartoon of Victor at 13 trying to crash into the matinee Sunday dances. He borrowed a man's suit jacket and hat that came down over both ears.

v v"... He waltzed through Jefferson High at the top of his classes. He raised hell, only Victor had a king-sized brain. Teachers loved him and he was a leader. He followed me to the University of Florida. ... As he did at Jefferson he led the class by his academic excellence. ... I had taken him under my wing. ... With grades like he had, I got him into the University of Miami Medical School where was a standout. He fought asthma and was able to out-work, out-think and lead his class. ...

"He accepted an internship at Tampa General. He was the top intern they ever had and is still a legend.

"He was so exceptional he was recruited to join Dr. (Michael) DeBakey's team of cardiac surgery. Again he led the field and in one year was Dr. DeBakey's first assistant. The news bowled me over. A Tampa Banana appointed to first assistant to a world-renowned heart surgeon.

v v

"He came to Tampa covered in glory. He became the first doctor to transplant a heart from one state to another. He chaired a committee to spearhead the establishment of a medical school in Tampa at USF. Victor was everywhere. He could not turn away a patient.

"... He came up with the idea for a hospital ship for cardiac patients from all over South America. The ship would include rooms for the patient's family. They would give them indigent care. Victor would staff it with Debakey's graduate doctors. As soon as the word 'free' rang through the halls of Tampa hospitals, the hoo and hush were heard throughout the state. Everybody was against the idea of free surgery.

"In the end he was financially tapped out, four million dollars shorter and they lost their house and declared bankruptcy. He was my best friend and brother because he is close to who I am. RIP my friend, love Ferdie."

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