News Report / Profile
He appeared in a gown, hiding within it a suit without a blazer, which shows that he cares about his image, and his golden skin showed that his Easter Holidays were not spent in Portugal. On his wrist was an Apple watch, always connected to his inseparable iPhone. He is confident, and it shows in his voice and the way he greets others when he looks into their eyes. I had only met him once before at a work meeting, and so I reached out and introduced myself again: "I'm Joana, and we have an interview". He interrupted me abruptly and said that he did not need to see a person repeatedly to recognise them and to know who they are. Characteristic of a leader, I would say, but also of a host.
Used to speak to audiences, he likes being heard, but he also likes them to intervene with ideas that are not his own, as if it were a game of tennis, where balls are hit back and forth as subjects that are not necessarily equal but need to be respected all the same.
A pragmatic man, he says that of the ten problems that he faces, he reduces them to only one and is, therefore, an "optimistic realist". But being like this is hard work, a lot of hard work, and that's why he tells me with a smile that the "best improvisation takes two weeks to build".
He runs for ideas and causes and sets different goals for himself and for the people that he supports unconditionally, but also jogs outside early in the morning, a way to suppress his longing for striking cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Budapest, or Tel Aviv. However, Lisbon always steals his heart, and he always returns to Lisbon at the end of dozens of trips. He lives in Chiado and jogs along the Tagus river.
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Fausto Pinto is the man of the heart. For it is the heart that he treats. And with a heart tamed by reason, he guides those who depend on him.
Director of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon since July 2015, he is a Cardiologist and Director of the Cardiology Department of the North Lisbon Hospital Centre and, for just over a year, he has been the Director of the Heart and Vessels Department.
A big proponent of globalisation, he understands that Medicine is a world with a universal language, joking that if scientists and doctors were in charge, the world would surely be different, and with less barriers.
He explained to me that one can die of a broken heart, but one can also die of extreme happiness. And that heart attacks caused by grief happen by order of the brain, which causes a part of the heart to stop contracting despite the lack of artery obstructions to cause it to suddenly stop. He also told me that when a heart has some fragile valves, contracting an infection in any other part of the body can cause issues and weaken the heart's valves. I also learned that the number of heart beats is related to longevity. And that a transplanted heart changes its rate after being transplanted to the new chest.
If ancient times dictated that the "soul" was in the heart and not in the brain, today it is more than clear that it is the brain that gives orders to the heart, yet the response to love, fear or uncertainty remains in the chest.
When he tells me about his children, he teaches me to love even when other hearts are not beating close around you. Being close does not imply being within eyesight but connected by heart.
There are moments of silence, that is to say, moments of music. Despite being very eclectic, perhaps his passion for Jazz was passed onto him by his father, who played the saxophone in an orchestra in Santarém. In the silence which is brief but necessary, there is still time for reading. Julian Barnes is one of the authors of the moment and also speaks about the heart, because "it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all".
I had many reasons to want to speak with Professor Fausto, who had always been in charge of directing most of the events I had attended. I wanted to ask him about the heart, as that was the theme of the month. But there was another inevitability in the conversation, the clear confirmation of his re-election for the Direction of the Faculty of Medicine.
I asked him to take me on a journey of his life, where I would try to follow the reasoning and some reflections, maybe the uncertainty of not knowing the right question to start a conversation with him.
He graduated in Medicine at the Faculty with a final grade of 18 points. He always wanted to be a doctor despite not having the direct heritage in his family. This did not stop his father, an engineer, from being his greatest reference in life, and although his older sister became an Economist, science was still etched in the family with his younger sister becoming a Scientist and eventually ending up in the USA. In his personality mixes the roots of a northern father, with Alentejo roots coming from his mother, but when I asked him to define himself, he sometimes sees himself more of an Anglo-Saxon, in a more lutheran aspect (a more spartan and modest posture), with humanistic strokes inherited further south in Europe.
He understands that one grows in life by learning from those that he calls role models. Maybe it was Silveira Machado, 4th year Medical Assistant who conquered the aspiring physician's heart to want to treat the hearts of others. He then went to Santa Maria Hospital and created ties with Fernando Pádua, the man who ended up being his mentor, and that at the time was Director of service. He has always accompanied and supported him throughout his life, "serving as an example in various aspects, in integrity as well as professionally". But the thirst of the world that we know of today already existed in the past, it is not for nothing that he claims to be "a person of the world" and therefore it was imperative to leave the country for a while and consolidate knowledge.
It is with the support of Professors Fernando Pádua and Mário Lopes that he reached Stanford in December 1998 with a scholarship from the Gulbenkian Foundation and where he remained as a cardiology intern. But the deadline extended, as he continued succeeding, and ended up staying for three and a half years. There he found his international inspiration, Professor Richard Popp, finished his speciality in Cardiology and did an internship in Interventional Cardiology. The temptation to stay in the new world was great, in a country where "the individual potential of each person can be stretched to its maximum", he developed an understanding without borders, and where cultures did not infringe. "There were people from all over the world, Iranians, Pakistanis, Chinese and there was no prejudice, people work with a global language". It was also here that he affirmed himself internationally, creating a network of contacts that he would bring with him for the rest of his life. But he returned to Portugal because his heart reminded him of personal affections and the feeling that he had to give back to the country what the country had already invested in him. In only half a year he finished his Ph.D, as he had brought from the USA a pioneering work on transplanted hearts, and where the first intravascular ultrasounds were performed in these same transplanted hearts.
At the young age of 36, he completes the University Aggregation, which not only gave him a high academic degree and recognition of his already vast curriculum but also made him one of the youngest doctorates in the clinical area.
He spent his entire hospital and academic career, at Santa Maria, going through every stage step by step and growing with these same stages. In 2014, he arrived at the Directorate of the Cardiology Service, the largest hospital in the country, and since then he has always fought for the integration of the academic part within the clinic. As a sequence where some of the elements don't work without the others, he has always been trying to strengthen the triangle between medical care, pre and postgraduate training, and research.
He marked clear positions on the importance of being able to differentiate an academic structure, linked to a university hospital. "To be able to live in a competitive world in the medical area", he knows that one needs a "strong unique structure which is divided into 3" (with respect to CAML).
Together with the journey travelled in the country, he established an international parallel and through the largest cardiovascular society in the world, the European Society of Cardiology, where he is currently the outgoing President (Past President). Composed of scientific societies from 56 different countries, 6 Associations of the main sub-specialities in Cardiology, 15 study groups of the different branches of Cardiology and 5 councils that reach areas as different as the Basic Sciences, or High Blood Pressure, all of them have a representative number of votes according to their size. Rounding the numbers, there is an electoral college of 400 votes. Votes that assign or remove leadership.
And they assigned it to Fausto Pinto, who was President from 2014 to 2016.
Accustomed to heading teams and projects from times past, and already part of this society, nothing was won at first try. "I remember an election in 2006, I was a candidate, and I lost by one vote, and it is precisely at the time when things are not going so well that persistence is very important. When we know what we want, it can sometimes take some time, but it is important to focus on what you want to achieve and to persist. The road through life is not always a straight line between two points". It was on that bumpy road that he learned his greatest lessons, and he says that this is what enabled him to be President, the way everything happened to him and for which he has no scientific answers. This made me raise the first question of a stimulating journey of words and experiences.
He tells me that his life's events happened by chance. Does it all happen by chance to all of us? How is it that a catholic explains the divine to Science?
Fausto Pinto: The best answer that I can give you is to read the speech by Pope Francis, at the Rome congress, where I finished my presidency and met him personally. And he made a really interesting speech on this reconciliation between Religion and Science. The conclusion is that one thing is not incompatible with the other, in fact, it is as if it were part of the Scientist's mission to do his job. Because the development of Science is an instrument to improve and care for the lives of others. Religion should not be folkloric, it should be an intimate manifestation of a person, and I may not have either the conventional view or the spectacle that some may make of it, maybe I am more intimate. But deep down, the whole spectacle that I speak of is made by men. I am more introspective and have a more intimate, guarded dialogue. You know, it is indeed easier to deny, like a computer that is disconnected and that has no life after being switched off. It is easier to explain, but also more simplistic. In life, I hold a position of great respect for difference and a great tolerance for opposing views, and I only demand to be equally respected.
It's true, I spoke with people close to the Professor, with whom he works closely, and they all gave me common information. "He is an excellent listener and listens a lot to others, he never loses his temper, he is never impulsive and conveys great calmness. After consulting the opinions of those he trusts, he makes a decision, and once he takes it, he does not hesitate anymore. It may take a long time to decide, but all perspectives, decisions and end points are evaluated. I would say that these are descriptions of an excellent leader.
Fausto Pinto: The best leaders of ourselves are those who surround us. Leading people is one of the most difficult tasks when you occupy a leadership position, it is easier to make decisions about more abstract subjects that do not involve people. We may have innate characteristics, but we need to work hard to develop them. Personally, I think I'm flexible, but not too flexible. I'm also not cold, but I'm not too exuberant. I try to be tempered and subdued. Getting to know the world and having contact with various people and their different cultures and positions has helped shape what could have been innate but required development. People like to be safe, and I think that I am determined, but I'm not blind, there are differences, this is to say that I transmit security onto those who work with me. But it is important that we don't consider ourselves to be the masters of the truth, and so sometimes it takes time to think and decide. And when I decide there are no advances and retreats.
I think it becomes unavoidable to ask him if he has deliberated much and decided to present his re-election to the Faculty.
Fausto Pinto: Yes, we can talk about my re-election now, since the election scheduled by the School Council is due shortly, in mid-May, or June.
Do you expect to meet opponents, or do you think that since it is a mandate for continuity, it must be announced without opposition?
Fausto Pinto: Everyone has the right to apply if they meet the necessary conditions, and I will be happy to debate ideas. In a democratic system, like the one we have, there are no guaranteed winners, and I know that these are the rules of the game. And I like the confrontation of ideas, it is useful and positive. In the case of the Faculty of Medicine, I think about implementing a more complete program, three years is too short. It is only possible to have two terms, and I will reapply because I feel I still have something to add and to complement what has already been done. In the meantime, the next mandate, which has now been approved by the School Board, may be extended to four years.
What do you consider as incomplete that needs to be completed?
Fausto Pinto: I wouldn't say that it hasn't been completed, because time is finite. But you have to set priorities, it would be unwise to promise too many things in such a short space of time which you will not be able to do later. But the previous electoral program is practically completed. Of course, there are aspects that can always be improved even when completed, and in that sense, there are areas to continue and to adapt. As with the case of the Department of Medical Education, and due to their nature, some must be constantly readjusted. Then there is another job that was started, and that will now have to be adapted and implemented. I am referring to the Clinical Teaching Assessment, which requires a more specific proposal for implementation in the coming times and it requires this same continuity.
But then there is another point that I wanted to highlight, and that falls within the scope of CAML (Lisbon Academic Medical Centre) This Institution should have a different kind of management, a more focussed and integrated management. It should have it's own management. It would be important for CAML to have its own management, somewhat following the Dutch model.
Still, on this idea of CAML, it is important to reinforce that the access to information and technologies is also very important; it is necessary to strengthen synergies with the various industries. This would provide a wider support to clinical research. The more international we become, the more networks we can develop.
Can we speak about the new areas that you want to announce?
Fausto Pinto: (Laughs) That means I'm going to open my electoral program. One of the areas that I would like to complete in full is the implementation of clinical teaching, I would like to reformulate my own teaching methods, integrated teaching should be constantly rethought, and the integration between the different areas is important. Then there is a program that deals with development within the University, the theme of which is "For a Healthy University" It's a prevention program where the Faculty of Medicine will play an important role, a concept that has been in existence since the creation of the Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Centre of the University of Lisbon; but we will also have the development of the area of Nutrition, and that will start this year with a degree in Nutritional Sciences.
I would like to rethink all postgraduate courses. The Advanced Training Institute (IFA, Instituto de Formação Avançada) has been working well, but after Bologna and with the Integrated Masters, the way that Masters should be developed and integrated implies that all post-graduate programmes should be rethought.
Then there are areas of continuity that relate to the teaching, students and the relationship with Student Associations and seek to give the best relations for studying and integration.
There is also a great focus around the new Reynaldo dos Santos building, which might be inaugurated still during this term, and that will have some very important aspects, some related to the pedagogical part, but others in which I would like to increase the development of the research area.
But when you speak about research, is it clinical?
Fausto Pinto: I understand that research in a Medical Academic Institution should be seen as a whole and, as such, there should be no closed compartments. I oppose the isolation of certain groups, specially in modern and collaborative structures. I must say that there has been a good collaboration with the Management of the iMM, where in fact most of the people have come from the Faculty, there has been a greater integration that is very positive in institutional terms. We held a joint tender for the scientific employment of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT, Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia), which is a good example of what has been done. In this sense, I think we will have an even greater collaboration between the various groups.
So, the new building will never be competition to the iMM?
Fausto Pinto: No, that was never the idea. The competition must always be healthy, and I don't see it any other way.
We will have areas of collaboration of the Instituto Superior Técnico, with the development of Bio-imaging and Regenerative Medicine areas, as we already work with team integration. This is one of the areas that I want to make stricter.
Whilst being Director, is your relationship with the students quiet or can you go through small turbulences between what their expectations and your ideas are?
Fausto Pinto: All relationships have moments of tension, and it is often these which make the processes move forward. The ideas of the students, who are very intelligent and capable young people, and their collaboration and vision for the Faculty are very important and are always taken into account when decisions are made that involve them.
We just talked about those who work closely with the Professor, but then there are a vast number of collaborators in this house, and I am referring to those who aren't teachers, with whom I spoke, and who describe you as very human, because you take care to provide some perks concerning schedules, as well as other perks beyond those provided by the State. This is an unthinkable privilege for the private sector, for example.
Fausto Pinto: It's gratifying to hear that. Basically it means that people are sensitive to what is done. Medicine also helps me to have a more humanist vision. Driving people implies taking their humanisation into the equation. I even wrote this in my past program, anyone who works in an environment with pleasant working conditions, works at their best. And so, if we want to think about the effectiveness of people's activity, those who feel recognised, valued and stimulated will have a better performance. And I speak regardless of the position that one occupies, whether it is a tenured Professor or an assistant. Now, of course, there are rules, but people are always people, and they have to be valued. In addition to these elements mentioned, we have created grants to further value performance. It is very important that people enjoy their workplace because ultimately this favours the Institution. I think there is a crisis of values, socially speaking, and being in an institution such as the Faculty of Medicine, which shapes doctors, we must know how to transmit a set of values that we must respect and develop. And you know, perhaps, having five children also helps to be more sensitive to these human issues.
I was just about to speak about your children. How is it that a person who spends his life caring for others, the heart of the sick, the various teams in different areas, how often can this person take care of his/her own family?
Fausto Pinto: (Remains silent for a while) You know ... (continues to reflect) each of us is a whole, and I know that there are no perfect beings, but the answer is the ability that each of us has to be able to create our own balance. Life's great secret is the inner balance that we establish, it is individual, there are no standards, although there may be good examples. And that was a life-long search, and in that, I've been lucky because, although there were always some nuances, I was able to find my balance. But this balance was made possible thanks to the family that I have, and it has been passed down by the parents that I had, but also thanks to my fabulous wife who has been my companion. But it is also thanks to my children. It is also thanks to my co-workers.
Managing this balance can also be trained, you know? One of the characteristics I have is that I'm not a micro-manager, I do not really like the detail inside the detail. I am a macro-manager. The more time spent on micro managing, the more time one loses. In this, leadership is once again very important because I delegate and trust. In my teams, I see people who can trigger the work processes, and I delegate to them. If it were not so, it would be impossible to do everything. I had been married before, so I've had a few difficult moments...
What you mean is that you have not always been able to manage your personal time so well?
Fausto Pinto: There is a very important aspect to consider: when one has children, of course, one must pay more attention to the issue of quality time. This means that the time I have to be with my children is, in fact, a time of commitment and quality. I have five fantastic children, I am a lucky man, and this luck comes with lots of quotation marks because it takes a lot of work to build. I achieved what I wanted to achieve, and I experience life in a positive way ... (Thinks) But when you have children, and you have already gone through a divorce there is always a small complex of guilt that you have towards your children and that is the only point I think has given me reasons for concern in the past. And at that point you ask yourself, have I spent enough time with them? Did I pay enough attention to them? Although afterwards this is rationalised and transformed in that quality time. At this moment it is already very difficult to get my children together, the oldest (of the group of 3 older) lives in England and is already married and has given me a granddaughter; the other older ones have also followed their own lives, so only on big occasions do we all get together. But one way or another we're all close and they know that.
The older ones no longer need you so much, maybe ...
Fausto Pinto: To need someone... depends on what you want to define as needing someone... What one person can give to another does not need to be their physical presence. The physical presence can be more important when they are smaller, but when they grow, we have other ways of being close, even without being there. But I do not think any of them would tell you that they missed love. (His eyes shine, and we were silent for a few seconds).
It was thought that the heart was the soul of the body. I know it's not, but it's the chest that feels the emotion...
Fausto Pinto: Because what you feel comes from a stimulus that is very fast and that is the consequence of a release of hormones, and that is why the heart accelerates more or less.
So, the master of the body is the brain and not the heart?
Fausto Pinto: Yes, it is.
Even for a Cardiologist?
Fausto Pinto:(Laughs) But one does not live without a heart, and the brain needs it to live. But the genesis of the feelings is here (points to the head).
We spoke in his office, surrounded by pictures that certify his professional merits and his travels around the world. I know that not everything in his professional life is there. Even behind his chair and at the center of all academic and scientific apparatus was another prominent merit, the family portrait drawn by Ricardo, his younger son. For two years he has been using this drawing as a Christmas postcard and sending it to his friends. But it is also the portrait of the affections that he managed to pass as a primordial message to his children.