Congratulations, Dr. Orlando Silva!
Dr. Orlando Silva or “Landy”, as his patients call him, is by far one of the most outstanding and inspirational human beings. He has dedicated his life to selflessly serving others either in the fight against breast cancer or as a hero to thousands who meet him in his medical missions in Latin America.
Dr. Silva was born in Cuba but left as an infant with his family because of the Communist Revolution. For seven years they lived in Miami, Florida, waiting for the revolution to end. During this time, his father restarted medical school. He had been studying in Cuba, while the rest of the family worked to make ends meet. When they finally realized the revolution would not be coming to an end, they left to Spain where Dr. Silva Sr. obtained a grant from the Catholic Church.
Living in Spain was very harsh financially. Dr. Silva even remembers going to bed some nights without eating anything. However, he remembers it as the happiest time of his life because his family was all together. His father later fulfilled his dream and they returned to the U.S., where he became an oncologist.
For Dr. Silva his inspiration in life and profession was his father. So, that was the reason Dr. Silva became a physician. However, he explains why his vocation became breast cancer: “When I was at Duke rotating through breast cancer, I realized that every time the mother died the whole family came apart. The mother was the central pillar of the family. When the whole family would fall apart, it reminded me of my own tragedy when my mother died. I declared war on breast cancer, and I’ve been fighting it ever since.”
Dr. Silva points out that breast cancer is still the leading cause of death by cancer among Hispanic women. Among women, as a whole it is lung cancer, but, specifically to Hispanics, breast cancer is greater. “We see pretty often, here in Miami, that the mother, the pillar of the family, though she may find a breast mass, does not go to the physician early enough because: #1: she’s afraid; #2: she forgets about herself, second to her family; or #3: they don’t have insurance. It is multifactorial, but the predominant fact is that she simply puts herself last. This happens in many communities, ‘I’ll deal with this later, I need to take the kids to soccer class,’ or ‘I can’t miss a day from working as a cashier because they’ll fire me and I won’t have a check to continue paying for my kids to go to school.”’ They are always last; they do it out of love.”
But Dr. Silva’s battle is not only that of breast cancer. He has also made a commitment as one of the leaders of the Emmaus Medical Missions. Ever since he was a child he wanted to do medical work, but when he tried to go to Rwanda he was turned down because he didn’t speak French.
So the hunger to help remained and then he heard about a woman that was rescuing children that had been thrown into the garbage to die, some being eaten by wild dogs. This was in Guatemala; the lady’s name was Leonor Portela; she was 73 years old. She worked 20 hours per day rescuing children. He met her in Miami and she asked him, “When are you coming to see my kids?” And so, that’s how the Emmaus Medical Missions got started. They started organizing people, and now they are doing four missions per year: two to Guatemala, one to Peru, and one to Ecuador. They take care of about 4,000 patients in 2 ½ days.
And if that wasn’t enough, they also opened a clinic for children with autism. It is also the only running clinic for children with autism in Central America.