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As he tended to his wounded teammates amidst the devastating carnage of the wreck, rugby player Roberto Canessa, a second-year medical student at the time, realized that no one on earth was luckier: he was alive--and for that, he should be eternally grateful. As the starving group struggled beyond the limits of what seemed possible, Canessa played a key role in safeguarding his fellow survivors, eventually trekking with a companion across the hostile mountain range for help.
This fine line between life and death became the catalyst for the rest of his life.
This uplifting tale of hope and determination, solidarity and ingenuity gives vivid insight into a world famous story. Canessa also draws a unique and fascinating parallel between his work as a doctor performing arduous heart surgeries on infants and unborn babies and the difficult life-changing decisions he was forced to make in the Andes. With grace and humanity, Canessa prompts us to ask ourselves: what do you do when all the odds are stacked against you?
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-10-26
- Reviewer: Staff
Canessa was a 19-year-old medical student and rugby player at Stella Maris College in Montevideo, Uruguay, when he became famous as one of 16 people who survived a 1972 plane crash in the Andes for 72 days by eating the frozen flesh of their deceased companions. While the survivors collective story was captured in Alive, Piers Paul Reads iconic 1974 book, Canessawho went on to became a world-renowned pediatric cardiologist at the Italian Hospital of Montevideonow draws parallels between the life-altering decisions he made on the mountain and the hope he provides to desperate parents by performing lifesaving heart surgeries on newborn infants and fetuses in utero. In this inspirational book, he recounts in breathtaking detail his harrowing journey across a harsh, uninhabited region of the Andes with fellow crash survivor Fernando Parrado to find help. Canessa references the life-and-death decisions (choosing cannibalism was his idea) that prepared him to become the most delicate of doctors. Coauthor Vierci interviewed Canessas family members, patients, and rescuers to connect the dots between the doctors survival ordeal and his medical work. The approach doesnt result in a smooth narrative, but it makes for riveting reading. (Mar.)
Stranded in the Andes
When it comes to inspirational books, it’s hard to beat Alive, Piers Paul Read’s 1974 account of the survival and eventual rescue of 16 survivors of a plane crash in the Andes. Roberto Canessa, one of two men who hiked out of the mountains and then led authorities to the survivors’ location, wisely doesn’t try to beat it in I Had to Survive, choosing instead to write (with Pablo Vierci) a complementary account of the ordeal and its effect on the subsequent four decades of his life.
It’s been quite a life, with Canessa forging a career as a pediatric cardiologist in his native Uruguay. The book is his way of expressing how, as Vierci puts it, “his ordeal on the mountain had shaped his life.”
For the record, Canessa wastes no time addressing what, for many, was the most salient feature of Alive: how the survivors had to consume “the only nourishment that was keeping us alive, the lifeless bodies of our friends.” But he has a larger purpose than explaining that decision. Rather than consigning his ordeal to the past, he’s made it an indelible part of his life.
So while the first part of the book recounts the crash and its aftermath, the second part is where Canessa truly bares his soul. From his words and those of his family and the families of his patients, it’s clear that while some people might think the Andes cast a shadow over his life, his view is totally different: “It’s the light from the mountain that continues to illuminate my path, in life and in death.”