Book recounts life journey of female surgeon
As a young child in Costa Rica, Anita Figueredo dreamt of being a doctor. She insisted upon it until eventually the 5-year-old propelled her mother to move them to New York so she could pursue her dream.
Implausible? Yes. Impossible? Apparently not.
“I really don’t know why I wanted to be a doctor, I just always did,” said Figueredo, now 92, as she sat in her La Jolla home of 53 years. “That was the reason for bringing me to the United States, because I wanted to be a doctor and there was no medical school in Costa Rica and no tradition of women in medicine. But I was fortunate; I could never have picked (another career) more perfect for me.”
Figueredo’s extraordinary history and road to success as the first female surgeon in San Diego - and one of the first two women in the world trained in the surgery of cancer - is recounted in a new book written by her daughter, pediatrician Sarita Eastman, M.D. “A Trail of Light: The Very Full Life of Dr. Anita Figueredo” started out as a family history after Eastman found her grandmother throwing away old family photographs one day and realized that she knew nothing about her Costa Rican history.
“After my grandmother died, I started interviewing my mother on a regular basis to see how in the world this little girl was brought to the United States to be a doctor,” Eastman said. “It sounded like such an unlikely story.”
Subsequent interviews with all of the living members of the Figueredo family, plus research in the genealogical libraries of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City and San Diego, in addition to a trip to Costa Rica to fill in the gaps, led to 315 pages of captivating, beautiful and incredible stories that document young Anita Figueredo’s determination to become a physician.
Admittedly unfamiliar with the concept of limits, Figueredo seems to have built her career by doing the impossible. With little money, she managed to attend some of the best schools in the country. At a time when women rarely worked outside the home, she was awarded one of the first two surgical residencies for women at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. And after moving to San Diego, Figueredo raised nine children while maintaining her prominent position at Scripps Hospital until she retired at age 80.
“Whether I would work or not has never been the question,” she said. “The only reason I would stop was for a short time while something else needed to happen and then I would return. I never considered anything else. I loved it. I loved working.”
Eastman said she always realized her mother was special and there was never any doubt about the unusual life her mother was living. Eastman said she attended seemingly continuous banquets in her mother’s honor, watched her mother’s relationship with Mother Teresa bloom into visits and partnered charities, and she helped her mother with her foundation, Friends of the Poor, to improve the lives of the disadvantaged in Mexico and beyond.
“I think that many women now, as in any generation, need to read about mentors like this, and women who have lived a full and rich life,” Eastman said. “I think women would enjoy reading about what is possible … I would think most people would not believe that it was possible.”
Editor’s note: Dr. Sarita Eastman is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician with a private practice in Carmel Valley and a founder of the Winston School in Del Mar. Like her mother, she has distinguished herself in her field and is being honored tonight at the fourth annual “Night Under the Stars” to benefit the Compass Family Center. Proceeds from the event will support families caring for children and adults with special needs.
About the book
‘A Trail of Light: The Very Full Life of Dr. Anita Figueredo,’ by Sarita Eastman, $19.95, is available at D.G. Wills Books and Warwick’s in La Jolla or online at Amazon.com.