A pediatric orthopedist says he enjoys solving the puzzles presented by the patients at his hospitals. When he needs to take his mind off work, he turns to the intricate art of sailing.
When Mauricio Silva, MD, traces his family’s lineage, he points out that growing up in the South American nation of Colombia, he had very little exposure to medicine. His grandfather was an engineer; his father was an engineer; and his sisters are engineers.
So, it would stand to reason that Silva, too, would become an engineer.
That didn’t happen. But, Silva—who today is medical director for the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles—credits that exposure to engineering as why he focused his medical career in orthopedic surgery.
“If you think about medicine, and of all the specialties in medicine, orthopedics actually gave me the opportunity to build and to use my problem-solving skills to help others,” Silva says. “And I was absolutely fascinated.”
Saving the Best for Last
Silva recalls that orthopedics was his last specialty while in medical school, and it left a powerful impression on him. Having the ability to help a patient who was badly injured put the pieces back together—recreating the puzzle, so to speak—was impactful.
“To see someone who came into the hospital very sick, and in one or two days help him walk again, that really drew my attention,” he says.
More specifically, Silva decided to focus on pediatric orthopedics. He professes a love of children. Being able to positively impact their lives is very rewarding.
“I can see the dramatic change in the face of a child that becomes badly injured, and how, in a matter of a few hours, I can see how the pain is controlled,” Silva says. “And it also helps the family rest assured that things are now taken care of. That happens in a matter of hours. And so, that’s very gratifying for me.”
Love for Sailing
Silva grew up sailing with his family. When he was young, his father built his own sailboat and sailed by himself. Then, when Silva and his siblings came of age, his father wanted to give them the opportunity to sail as well, so he purchased a sailboat for the entire family.
“We grew up in Bogota, which is about 8,500 above sea level,” Silva explains. “And there was a lake that I would say was about 60 miles from home. Every Sunday the entire family would get in the car, and we would go and sail our boat there for three or four hours.”
As Silva and his siblings grew older, their father sold the sailboat and bought them racers. It became the family encounter every week, and gave Silva an opportunity to learn, but also to spend valuable time with his father.
Why does Silva love sailing as much as he does? He describes it as a sport where “every little detail counts.” Paying attention is critical. And because he’s so focused on what he doing, it takes him away from the thoughts and worries of everyday life.
“You don’t have an engine; you don’t have the noise,” Silva explains. “It is just you, trying to take the best advantage of the wind that you have and the conditions that you have and to make the best of it. And it’s exciting, it’s enjoyable; you’re out in the fresh air.”
Paying It Forward
Now Silva is able to take what he learned from his father and pass it on to his two children, which is something he says he cherishes.
About three years ago when his son turned 10, Silva bought him a small boat and they joined a club where adolescents raced. A year later, when his daughter turned 8, she joined as well. Now they’re all part of the team, and they sail every Sunday as part of the organized race clubs in California.
“We go along the California coast from Long Beach to San Francisco in events during the year,” Silva says. “All along the coast there are these organized competitions in which kids compete. I’ve become a member of the race committee to be part of the judging. It’s just something we enjoy as a family.”
He recalls a time about a year ago when he and his son, Nicholas, flew up to San Francisco to compete. Silva was sitting with the other parents, watching, when he saw his son deviate direction from what the others were doing. He was horrified.
“Why did he make that decision,” said aloud to the other parents. But it turned out his son made the correct decision and wound up winning the race—his first victory.
“I learned a lesson that day,” Silva recalls. “I need to start learning to trust their judgment. And he definitely made the right call that day.”
Silva loves that he works for a non-profit organization, in that the institute will take care of children without regard for their ability to pay. He says that’s important.
“It’s extremely rewarding to be able to see a patient that comes to us, and you can tell that they are scared,” he says. “They know that they have a bad injury. They know that they can’t pay for it. And they have been rejected from many other hospitals, so we’re kind of like their last resort.”
Being able to tell these children that they’re going to be fine, and that they’re going to receive all the care they need, is a wonderful feeling, Silva explains.
“That capacity to be able to help kids who otherwise would have no place else to go, is probably one of the most fulfilling parts of my career.”