Dr. Alba Vaillant. Radiology as a destiny

Dr. Alba Vaillant. Radiology as a destiny
Fecha de publicación: 
23 August 2023
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In November 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen stunned the world with a discovery that would henceforth enhance the performance of medicine. Indeed, the discovery of X-rays, while he was experimenting with a cathode ray tube, would bring an overwhelming revolution to human health.

Since then, the development of this advanced method of somatic examination has captivated both doctors and researchers of the revealing finding.

Several decades later —in the 1960s— very far from Europe, a small island in the Caribbean made accessible such finding to the entire population. Cuba was then determined to strengthen “the universal health-care coverage,” which included both specialized and high-tech services.

Faced with so many revolutionary changes, a young doctor, recently graduated, attached her future to the enthusiasm for the novelties that the nascent study programs spread. Caught in this realm of opportunities, Alba Vaillant Baralt (November, 1939) entered the world of radiology (1966).

Not surprisingly, her story was similar to that of many other young people who saw their life and destiny empowered by the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

In an interview granted to CubaSí, this successful woman delves into her six decades of work, of which more than five have been spent dressed in a white coat and observing the internal universe of hundreds of patients.

Born in the province of Santiago de Cuba, she speaks with particular pride of her home in the Los Hoyos neighborhood, "a couple of blocks away from the house of Major General of the Liberation Army, Antonio Maceo," she remarks with that wide and contagious laugh that always lights up his face.

A similar enthusiasm is shown when talking about her music studies (musical theory and piano), the chemical engineering that she dropped out in the first year, her participation as a literacy teacher in the areas of Cueto and Antilla (Holguín province), her first marriage and the decision to travel to Havana to study medicine in the absence of such possibility at the Santiago University.

However, that was a time where she had to test, several times, the enviable determination with which she faces life.

“When I was majoring my second year, I got pregnant of my first daughter. Three days after giving birth, I went back to school. I had to save the course. Four years later, and sixth majoring medicine, I had my son. As it happened with my girl, three days later I was back at school.

“When I graduated, I was sent to Isle of Youth to do volunteer work. Thereafter, the postgraduate placements would take place.

“By that time, the Cuban health system inaugurated the so-called vertical specialty boarding schools. Since I had been an assistant student in ophthalmology, I put this as the first option. Secondly, I chose radiology. We already know what happened. However, I was soon very grateful for that granting, because I have been immensely happy in my profession.”

Clinging onto that courage, Alba devoted herself to fulfilling the mission of the Hippocratic oath and go there where I could be useful.

“After my time in the Isle of Youth ended, I worked at the Provincial Hospital of Matanzas where I was able to do a very beautiful job, with which I feel very pleased. There, after the daily work in the hospital, I served at night as a general practitioner in a polyclinic in the city.

“At first, it was hard because I had to travel alone to that province. My husband and children were left behind in the care of my mother. Later, when I had a home, they joined me.

“Afterwards, I was appointed as Director of the Hospital for Resident Students, located in the beach resort of Varadero. This place sought care of all foreign interns who arrived in Cuba.”

Back in Havana, in the early years of the 1970s, Dr. Vaillant began her two-year residency in radiology at the Hospital Comandante Manuel Fajardo.  

After this period, she was part of the working staff of the first polyclinic that developed the community medicine in the country, in the Havana’s municipality Plaza de la Revolución.

“Working there with Emeritus Professor and Full Member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, Dr Cosme Ordoñez Carceller —he passed away in 2019 and was the leading figure of the Community Medicine model— was certainly one of the greatest and defining teachings of my career.”

Imbued by the demands of the profession, she served at the Havana Legal Hospital. She headed the Department of Radiology at the Hospital Camilo Cienfuegos and served in several international missions in Africa.

Meanwhile, her skills as a radiologist would only improve and she definitively built a reputation among the many women dedicated to this specialty in the nation.

Hence, at the beginning of the 1980s, and after returning from cooperation in Mozambique, executive members of the Cira García Central Clinic asked her to join that institution, which at that time was inaugurating medical assistance to foreign patients. Before, it only served scholarship holders.

Between then and now —43 years—, the name of doctor Alba Vaillant stands for the identity and the high professionalism that this hospital boasts regarding its imaging service.

The design in the construction of these examination rooms and offices, the installation of ultrasound, single-slice and 64-slice Computed Axial Tomography (CT), low- and high-field Magnetic Resonances, and the rest of the radiological equipment are due to her. At the same time, she promoted the training of all the personnel who work alongside her.

“I started with only two technicians and we ended up having nine. At present, they are all graduates or technologists and they cover the total work in this area. Parallel to our experience in medical care, we have the precedent of training those who would provide healthcare in Venezuela.

“We were also founders of the cochlear implant program. The entire process was carried out at the Clinic and we organized the procedure together with teams of pediatricians, anesthesiologists and other experts. That is, we assumed the imaging studies with Resonance and CT to classify the patients who would receive the implant.

“We got also involved in other collaborations such as those carried out with the Biotechnology Center in the scientific research project on cervical cancer, which lasted three years. We currently support nephrology exams through CT scans performed on kidney donors.”

“Throughout these decades, we have organized a high-quality and prestigious service at the Cira García Clinic with high-tech and highly efficient equipment. Today we get to perform between 30 and 40 X-ray studies a day, even more. In addition to a similar number of ultrasounds.”

Just a few months shy of her 84th birthday and retirement in sight, Vaillant boasts a vitality that can leave her young subordinates in a bad light. “I still dance (I like it a lot) and I do all the chores around my house.”

It is enough to see her organize the daily schedule, the imaging analysis indicated by other specialists in the institution and care for the patients, to admire the professional singularity of this woman who does not hesitate to raise her voice to demand a quality caring service.

“I am very strict with the treatment of patients. You have to showcase your professionalism at all times and with everyone. Personal problems cannot be transferred to the consultation or to the people who come to receive the medical service. There is an ethic to preserve.”

Precisely, from that legendary behavior with which she is known, Dr. Vaillant recognizes that “although she deeply loves radiology, it is time to think about retirement. When that happens, I want to continue offering my practice and knowledge to the Clinic. I cannot picture my life outside of this site or this work that I chose as my destiny.”

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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