Service & Programs

Dr. Francisco A. Hernandez

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Francisco A. “Frank” Hernandez was the first pediatric cardiologist in the state of Florida, and the pioneer who led many who followed him to continue his work to help children with heart disease. Dr. Hernandez was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and came to the United States for college, earning his Bachelors and M.D. degrees at the Columbia College in New York City. He returned to Cuba for his medical internship and military obligation and served as flight surgeon at the Army General Hospital in Havana.

2 Political changes on the island led him to move to Miami in 1945, where he took a position at the National Children’s Cardiac Home (NCCH), caring for children with rheumatic fever. In 1951, Dr. Hernandez became the Medical Director of the NCCH, which was then housed in a series of cottages located on Flagler Street at Le Jeune Road, where he developed a cath lab with “state of the art” catheterization and angiographic features for that time. Similar facilities were also being developed at medical centers in major medical centers around the U.S. His lab was the first facility of its kind south of Baltimore.

Dr. Hernandez had the help and experience of Dr. Agustin Castellanos, Sr. who was the first physician in the Americas to inject contrast (then an innovative but risky radiologic technique) to outline the intra-cardiac anatomy. He had worked on this method from the 1930’s in Cuba.

As penicillin and prednisone therapy improved the outlook for rheumatic fever patients and methods for heart surgery in children were making progress, Dr. Hernandez expanded these diagnostic methods to define the more complex anatomy of patients with congenital heart defects who were previously unable to have accurate diagnosis or treatment. Some of the children operated on in those years are middle-aged citizens now and remember Dr. Hernandez with extreme gratitude. Dr. Hernandez utilized many cutting edge methods including the use of an electrode catheter. Intracardiac electrography was used in the 1950’s to locate the catheter’s position in the heart to supplement the poor quality of fluoroscopy at that time.

Another advance was the Rashkind balloon septostomy catheter. Dr. Hernandez encouraged Dr. Dolores Tamer to use the new method on a neonate. Dr. Tamer, who was Dr. Hernandez’ first associate, joined him in 1967. She performed catheterizations at Jackson Memorial Hospital and at the NCCH. Dr. Tamer was the Director of the Pediatric Heart Clinic and one of the distinguished teachers of medical students, residents, and fellows.

In 1964, the NCCH moved from the cottages at the Flagler & LeJeune road location to a newly-built hospital on the medical campus in Miami (now called the University of Miami Hospital and Clinics). In 1965, the NCCH Foundation, headed by Mr. Richard Berenson, sold the NCCH for $10 to the University of Miami to support the Medical school programs in research, education, and patient care. With the facilities of the Medical school and the interaction with the pediatricians and cardiac surgeons at the Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami’s heart patients were able to receive care on par with the best medical centers in the country.

In 1968, Dr. Hernandez became the first University of Miami Berenson Professor of Pediatrics. He also served as Director of Pediatric Cardiology at the University of Miami until his retirement in 1973. Dr. Hernandez passed away in 1985 at the age of 77.

To keep the memory of Dr. Hernandez alive for generations still to come, the Francisco A Hernandez lectureship was created in 1970 by Dr. Gerold L. Schiebler, former Chief of Pediatric Cardiology and Distinguished Service Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Florida. The lectureship was created under the aegis of the Florida Heart Association and the University of Florida Foundation to recognize Dr. Hernandez as the first pediatric cardiologist in Florida and one of the nation’s grandfathers in the evolving field of pediatric cardiology. The lectureship speakers have been nationally known pediatric cardiologists, and this tradition continues today.

The present Division of Pediatric Cardiology at University of Miami is a result of his early vision for the new specialty. Dr. Hernandez worked to refine methods and to encourage innovations that permitted accurate diagnosis and effective treatments for a population of children who had never previously had a chance to survive. This continuing learning is a fitting tribute to the early work of Francisco A. Hernandez. It is appropriate that we continue his tradition of pushing the limit of our understanding as we deal with fetuses, infants, children and adults with heart disease.

To make a donation in support of the Dr. Francisco A. Hernandez Lecture, mail your donation to:
UF Health Office of Development
Attn: Tamera Freeman
PO B0X 100386
Gainesville, FL 32610
Checks should be made payable to UF Foundation, Inc.
Fund number F017271 should be noted on the memo line.