By Elisabeth Román
Several months ago, I was asked to write about heroes and stars; what makes them different, which one is worthy of admiration, and who should be granted role model status? I began my search in Hollywood (where else?), since so many these days call entertainers “stars.” For several weeks, all the media websites I visited were reporting on celebrity Kim Kardashian’s third nuptials. I had obviously found a star.
Kim Kardashian married Kanye West over Memorial Day Weekend, and the media circus in which this couple breathes and lives, as part of the Kardashians’ reality show, almost guaranteed we would read and hear more about Kim’s wedding dress, than about our fallen and wounded heroes. The media called it “the wedding of the century,” the nuptials of a young woman whose rise to fame is rooted in a sex tape to a rapper said to be one of the rudest in the music industry. Unfortunately, the business of reality TV has turned entertainers like the Kardashian family into media empires that spend millions of dollars promoting themselves on our screens and in the news. With so much media coverage, Kim Kardashian can definitely be called a star, although not an admirable role model for anybody.
While the so-called stars were saying their “I do’s” in Florence, Italy, in Minneapolis, one of the greatest minds in heart medicine technology, Manny Villafaña, was preparing along with his wife to watch their twin daughters graduate from high school. Manny’s story—a legend thanks to faith and hard work—is one that is shared by most Latinos: his parents moved here seeking a better life, and he was born into and raised in an urban area of crime, gangs, and poverty. After school, he ran through alleys in the Bronx to evade gang members seeking to recruit him, usually with violence if the response was no. He ran straight to the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club of New York and credits them for keeping him safe and off the streets.
In May 2014, Villafaña received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Iowa and has been recognized by the World Society of Cardio-Thoracic Surgeons as a “Living Legend of Medicine.” Villafaña’s achievements have transformed the industry of cardiac surgery: he has numerous pacemaker, heart valve, and stent patents; he is the co-inventor of lithium-powered pacemakers; and the founder of Cardiac Pacemakers, Inc./Guidant Corporation, St. Jude Medical, and ATS Medical. In 2007, he launched his seventh company, Kips Bay Medical, Inc., a medical device company that focuses on developing new technology to save the lives of heart surgery patients. In short, this Latino with Puerto Rican roots has spent his entire life creating the technology and medical devices that in the hands of skilled cardiac surgeons are saving lives around the world.