The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

Appreciation: Albert Fenech

Sunday, 16 January 2022, 08:42 Last update: about 5 months ago

From thoracic surgeon Alex Manche

I first met Albert when he performed an intervention on my uncle at the Brook Hospital in London. I remember the patient being wheeled into the cathlab and wheeled out a short while after. When I was reassured the procedure had been duly completed, and not cancelled as I had suspected, I was left amazed at Albert’s speed and ability.

This was to be his hallmark in the ensuing years when fate brought us together at St Luke’s hospital in 1995. I look back on those times with great nostalgia. We were a nascent team of two, Albert as cardiologist and myself as surgeon, introducing a complex novel service to the island and together we achieved a lot. The challenge lay in convincing and animating all those doctors, nurses and paramedics around us to evolve into meaningful participants in a unit of excellence, as relevant as any other abroad. Our characters differed considerably: Albert was charismatic and a great public speaker whereas I generally kept my head down and out of the public eye, but we got on like a house on fire and the Unit went from strength to strength.

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Cardiology was then largely an investigative specialty and interventions were surgical in the main. This quickly changed towards the millennium and Albert embraced interventional cardiology with gusto. He introduced coronary stenting to Malta and this raised the safety of his interventions by a new dimension. I was very happy to give him the necessary surgical cover to make this happen. When percutaneous valve implantation was announced to the world Albert and I travelled with our respective teams to Rouen and Malta became one of the first countries to offer this new technology to patients. Of course Albert introduced many other procedures to the service and in turn I garnered his support for my surgical innovations such as heart transplantation and valve repair. We shared the same vision of a cardiac service and complemented one another seamlessly, so much so that the media often mistook our respective roles of cardiologist and cardiothoracic surgeon.

Albert started his day with a lengthy clinic in his office, patiently listening to peoples’ woes and pains, offering professional advice and support. He took his professorial duties very seriously, simultaneously teaching students during these clinics and on numerous tutorials. Albert and I both made it our goal to train the next generation of cardiologists and cardiac surgeons respectively. Morning clinics were followed by daily long cathlab sessions, where Albert was in his true element. He sang, he joked with patients and he put them at ease, often in very dire circumstances.

Apart from his technical ability I always looked upon Albert as a valuable colleague and often discussed with him difficult administrative or ethical issues. In him I found a great partner and friend. Albert was to be admired for his sense of service and humanity, qualities that are foremost in the good practice of medicine. Sadly our clinical collaboration came to an end when Albert retired from government service and the seamless unity of our venture was never the same again.

Albert was a great performer on stage and he excelled at his Elvis Presley impersonation. When we organised events, such as the Malta Heart Foundation gala dinners, I accompanied his singing at the piano and this proved to be great fun. We also spent time together on his boat on those rare occasions when our mutual patients permitted it.

The sudden news of his passing came to me as a great shock. I had seen him only a few days before and was unaware of any major health issue. I imagine Albert kept his worst fears to himself and maintained the jovial persona that we all loved so much. Life will never be the same. He leaves a void in many peoples’ lives.

Alex Manche

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