Mauricio Silva, MD, brings a profound sense of purpose and commitment to patient care, forged in the cartel days in Bogota, Colombia, and on full display during the pandemic days in Los Angeles.
Growing up in Bogota in the 1980s taught Dr. Silva how valuable life is. He recalls driving to school one morning and passing an intersection where a bomb had exploded just minutes later, killing more than 10 innocent civilians and injuring hundreds. “The cartel violence was everywhere, and we learned to be as safe as possible, but also to appreciate all of the little aspects of life,” Dr. Silva says.
The turmoil around the young Mauricio Silva pushed him toward medicine.
Dr. Silva recalls “seeing the children who were victims of the guerrilla coming with mangled limbs from landmines.
"It made it clear that helping patients was my calling.”
Dr. Silva trained at Universidad Javeriana-Fundación Santa Fé. One of the premier institutions in South America, the university practices data-driven, high-quality medicine. “It taught me that even in challenging surroundings, excellence can be expected,” Dr. Silva says.
It provided a blueprint for Dr. Silva that he carries to this day.
A 'short' visit to the U.S.
In 1999, when Dr. Silva came to the United States with his wife, also a physician, the newlyweds expected to be here for just six months. When his wife decided to pursue additional training, that turned into two years.
During that time, the CEO of the Orthopaedic Institute for Children (then Orthopaedic Hospital) recognized Dr. Silva’s talents and asked him to stay on as a faculty member.
“It was really a challenging decision. We had a very well-walked path available in Colombia: the best hospitals, the best neighborhoods, all our family. But we decided we would commit to this adventure, to see what life here in Los Angeles would be like,” he said.
It was not easy. Foreign medical graduates must complete additional years of training, retake all of the board examinations, and work up through the ranks.
“For me, what was unique here was the opportunity to work hard and take great care of patients,” Dr. Silva says. “No one ever told me not to fight for a child’s well-being.”
Finding his niche
Dr. Silva began developing a niche as a pediatric orthopaedic trauma surgeon.
“I saw a population that needed help,” he said. “Here we were in the United States of America, in Los Angeles of all places, and children were not being cared for because the economics didn’t make sense. I quickly found a purpose.”
Dr. Silva built the largest collection of pediatric elbow fractures in the country. He treated every child with the care of a perfectionist, and he followed them, collecting outcomes as only a scientist would. This data formed the backbone of what became Silva’s first major contribution to orthopaedic surgery.
“I realized that many kids were having surgery unnecessarily,” Dr. Silva recalls.
He studied the common type 2 supracondylar elbow fracture, one of the most common injuries in children. These were assumed to require surgery prior to Dr. Silva’s work, but were found to do very well with simple casts in his dataset.
“It led to a revolution in the way we treat children,” says UCLA Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Interim Chair Nicholas Bernthal, MD. “From Los Angeles to Dubai, children across the globe are now spared surgery thanks to Dr. Silva’s work.”
Orthopaedic Institute for Children
Dr. Silva took the same commitment to children to his administrative roles at Orthopaedic Institute for Children, UCLA’s partner institution that provides pediatric orthopaedic care at its downtown campus as well as at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center.
Dr. Silva was in charge of the rebuild of the urgent care center, the surgery center, and the fracture clinic downtown.
“Dr. Silva is one of the few leaders who simplifies complex issues: What is the solution that provides the patient and family members the best experience? Strive for that, and all else follows,” says Dr. Bernthal.
The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery recognized Dr. Silva’s talents and named him vice chair for Clinical Operations.
“Dr. Silva brings a unique talent set to the job,” Dr. Bernthal says. “He pays as close attention to the curtains in the patient room as the placement of the K-wire (used in fracture repair). It all coalesces into a patient experience of trust, and there is no rest in him until the patient experience is perfect.”
Helping children flourish
Dr. Silva says his experiences in Bogota were formative.
“I grew up in a time when physicians had to put their own well-being at risk to come to work in spite of all of the violence around them. It’s amazing to me that we are, in some odd way, back to that. Our team has been coming to work, treating injuries, deformities, cancers and illness despite pandemic risks to themselves and their families," he says.
"I treat my role as vice chair for operations as an honor and a responsibility. I need to create the optimal environment to let these heroes continue to come to work and serve our community.”
Dr. Bernthal describes Dr. Silva with great admiration: “Simply put, I can’t think of anyone who has earned a job more than Dr. Silva. Everything he lays his hands on is done with consummate care. He is a gifted physician – the first call I make when my children are injured – and a brilliant thinker. His perspective is that of one who has seen the world and recognizes how we can focus on what we can control and make it better.”
Asked whether he feels added responsibility being one of the few Latino leaders in academic surgery, Dr. Silva says: “I am honored to represent my native country and my wonderful training at Universidad Javeriana-Fundación Santa Fé. But I am equally honored to represent my hometown of Los Angeles and my partners, mentors and friends at UCLA.”
In the end, the focus remains the same.
“We need to keep pushing to give every kid the best care," Dr. Silva says. "Look them in the eye, hear them out, and give them a chance to flourish. I look at my own children and see them in all of the kids of Los Angeles.”
Learn more about the services available through UCLA Orthopaedic Surgery.