Full Biography

"We all have our own cordilleras"

Internationally renowned cardiologist Roberto Canessa was born in Uruguay in 1953. In October 1972 Roberto was a member of a Uruguayan rugby team flying to a match in Chile when their plane crashed in the Andes, killing most of the 45 passengers. Rescue attempts proved futile and the group was given up for dead. After enduring two months battling gruesome conditions—extreme cold, severely injured teammates, an avalanche, and a mounting death toll—Roberto and fellow teammate Nando Parrado made the epic decision to cross through the wall of mountains to find help for their 14 remaining teammates. After ten days of trekking, Roberto and Nando emerged from the mountains just before Christmas, to the astonishment of the world, and the remaining passengers were rescued. As a 19-year-old medical student during their ordeal, Roberto proved to be a natural leader, from giving first aid to the wounded, to improvising survival tools, to providing scientific support to the idea of using the dead bodies of their friends as nourishment and then performing the terrible task of cutting and swallowing the first piece of flesh.

I Had to Survive, published by Atria Books in English and Spanish on March 1, is Roberto’s moving personal account of this harrowing ordeal and its aftermath. Based on Pablo Vierci's extensive interviews with Roberto, his family, and many of his patients, the book reveals how Roberto's path to survival went on to inspire his lifelong work as a pediatric cardiologist in Uruguay. Working in conjunction with outstanding cardiologists throughout the world, Roberto Canessa has dedicated his career to finding ways to save the lives of infants born with severe heart defects that were previously deemed hopeless. Roberto graduated from the Universidad de la Republica Oriental del Uruguay with a degree in cardiology and pediatric cardiology. He was awarded the Premio Nacional in Medicine in 1986 and the Gran Premio in Medicine in 1991 and 1999. Roberto currently is a prominent pediatric cardiologist in Uruguay, where he works at the Hospital Italiano as director of the Department of Cardiac Ultrasound and the Department of Prenatal Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Diseases. He teaches postgraduate courses in Pediatric Cardiology at the Uruguay Faculty of Medicine, and directs non-invasive evaluation for the Heart Transplant Donors Program as well as research in the Fetal Cardiology program.

"Resuscitated was the world wide press headline"

In June 14 2015, Dr. Canessa was named Honorary Fellow of the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE).Dr. Canessa has spoken at numerous universities and organizations throughout the world, including: Harvard University, MIT Sloan School of Management, The Wharton School, Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca (Spain), Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, YPO Guadalajara (México),The Royal College of Surgeons (England), the America Heart Association's William J. Rashkind Memorial Lecture, the Mannheim Conference of the 46th Congress of the European Association of Congenital Cardiologists (Istanbul), Daicoff Lecture Chicago, Max Planck Institute (Germany), Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons Annual Meeting (New York).He has also been a motivational speaker, addressing various groups, including: Chargeurs en Francia, HSBC, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, Pepsico, Prudential, Mars, Coca-Cola, IBM, Oracle, General Motors, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Astra Zeneca, Abbott.

I Had to Survive, described as an “instant classic," has been hailed as "an inspirational book" by Publishers Weekly: “Canessa references the life-and-death decisions that prepared him to become the most delicate of doctors.… it makes for riveting reading.”



The Harvard Crimson

  • 24 Feb. 2005

"Plane Crash Survivor Stuns Crowd With Tale. Students Packed into Boylston Hall yesterday to hear the miraculous survival story of plane crash..."


MIT Sloan

  • 20 Jun. 2005

"Plane Crash Survivor Stuns Crowd With Tale. Students Packed into Boylston Hall yesterday to hear the miraculous survival story of plane crash..."


Cardiology 2016

  • 24 Feb. 2016

Key note Speaker at the biggest Cardiology conference in the world.


Wharton University

  • 13 Jun. 2006

Leading with Resilience: coming back from challenge and adversity