Dr Juan Abarca Campal was born on October 25, 1944 in Ciudad Rodrigo, a city in the province of Salamanca. In ancient Rome, Ciudad Rodrigo was known as Miróbriga, and this classical heritage was important to Dr Juan Abarca Campal as he developed a taste for civilization, and its humanistic, legal, and social legacy. Salamanca is a region that is synonymous with austerity and nobility, and Dr Juan Abarca Campal has never been afraid to show that his Spanish character has been marked by words such as these.
The doctor’s mother, Clara Campal, was a woman in capital letters. She said, in relation to her son, that “he was a close-packed stone that couldn’t be reached by any stonemason”. Dr Abarca Campal enjoyed a happy childhood in the bosom of a family. The name ‘Campal’ was fundamental to the lives of all the family members. The clan put loyalty between members at the centre of a union which was tied together seamlessly like the small bones in a vertebra.
As a boy the doctor was mischievous and had several accidents which were typical of youngsters. All of these mishaps were connected with his older cousin Ernesto, who went on to become a traumatologist. These early misadventures awakened a vocation in the doctor to heal others. Dr Abarca Campal’s background was varied. The doctor grew up in the Salesian tradition (a religious practice developed from the teaching of the bishop Francisco de Sales), and his father had a history in the military, so there was both a Christian and a martial element to his character. The doctor’s parents dreamed that their son might become a doctor and a man of the military. Dr Abarca Campal first studied medicine and surgery at the University of Salamanca where he gained a first. After this, the doctor presented at the air force’s medical services section and subsequently entered into the Air Health Corps. For more than 25 years the doctor had an office at the Torrejón de Ardoz Air Base which he had specially designed to help military pilots.
During his military career, Dr Abarca Campal was stationed at the La Virgen del Camino Area Base in León where he spent time together with the surgeon colonel Dr Eduardo Navas Concas, who at that time was also Head of the Surgery Service of the San Francisco Clinic. The close relationship between the two doctors led Dr Abarca Campal to collaborate with Dr Eduardo Navas Concas in the colonel’s private clinic. Many years later the same clinic was incorporated into Grupo HM Hospitales as the HM San Francisco Hospital.
Dr Abarca Campal was always fond of Madrid and while in the Spanish capital the doctor became part
of Dr López León’s Surgery team at the Hospital Militar del Aire, located on Calle Arturo Soria. In Madrid Dr Abarca Campal finished and read his doctoral thesis, gaining a Cum Laude, on Dr Argumosa, whose life Dr Abarca Campal has always considered an example of professionalism. In Madrid as well,
Dr Abarca Campal passed the Social Security examinations. (The doctor was the first military doctor to develop his specialty within that institution.) Whilst working in the institutions of the Social Security System Dr Abarca Campal became part of Dr Fernández de Lis’ team. Dr Fernández de Lis is an emergency surgeon with whom Dr Abarca Campal struck up a great relationship.
In this period in the life of Dr Abarca Campal the doctor had to contend with immense responsibilities in his day-to-day work which required a real vocation and dedication to the needs of other people.
Liberty is something that Dr Abarca Campal has always prized, and in search of greater freedom in his work, the doctor presented at the doctor-surgeon “cupo” examinations, a testing system designed to allow surgeons to work independently. On passing the examinations, the doctor was, at last, allowed to be his own boss.
“Concern”, “audacity”, “tenacity”, and an unwavering “faith” marked the character and journey of the doctor as he worked as a surgeon in the following years. He was fulfilling his dreams. In recognition of the importance of freedom, the doctor developed a slogan with the words: “Medicine set free NO. Freedom of medicine YES”. This slogan was a reflective exercise which allowed the doctor to sum up his vitality and professional spirit.
As a distinguished surgeon and Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Corps, Dr Abarca Campal continued to gain experience and receive recognition and affection from his comrades. It was in this atmosphere of shared humanity that the doctor’s values were formed. These values would allow him later on to establish HM Hospitales, hospitals which were designed to take the best possible care of patients in extreme situations.
In 1985, as the 1984/1986 Law on the Incompatibility of Health System Personnel was introduced, Dr Abarca Campal had to choose between his two great passions: medicine and the military. In the end, the doctor decided to pursue a medical career, but so as not to give up his military career entirely, he asked simply for a leave of absence, rather than going into the Reserve. Dr Abarca Campal struggled to say “no” to the military world. He had been so happy there and had made so many friends.
The doctor continued his career as a surgeon and took on a specialization in the field of hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery. Such was the performance of Dr Abarca Campal as a surgeon that the doctor earned personal and professional recommendations in military, civil, political, religious, and social circles in the Spain of the 1970s and 1980s.
In response to both the recognition he received as well as his passion for medicine, Dr Abarca Campal founded a network of medical assemblies. These sessions which explored clinical best practice became a benchmark amongst medical professionals at the time. These gatherings, which ran from 1979 to 1992, were a forum of knowledge which served to connect and update doctors, even those who worked a significant distance from Madrid, on the latest medical concepts. Dr Abarca Campal’s work in these seminars consolidated his position as one of the most authoritative voices in the medical profession. During this period, the doctor put himself forward for the Madrid Medical Association elections with a new set of policies, a summary of how he understood the medical profession. This same program would later be used as “Decalogue of a Hospital” which, today, presides over the entrance to all of the HM Hospitales.
Dr Abarca Campal is married to Dr Carmen Cidón Tamargo. He is also the father of Carmen, Juan, Elena, and Alejandro. Dr Abarca Campal together with Dr Carmen Cidón Tamargo developed the concept of a private healthcare system which would allow Spain to move away from the charitable model. The disruptive concept of medicine pioneered by Dr Abarca Campal and Dr Carmen Cidón Tamargo became a benchmark for companies that wanted to offer complete healthcare solutions which put the patient at the centre of the concept and allowed doctors the freedom to take decisions, investigate, and pursue teaching responsibilities. This disruptive model of medicine transformed the Spanish private healthcare landscape. The remaking started with the purchase in 1988 of the historic San Pedro Hospital in Madrid, and continued to the position today where HM Hospitales is an essential asset in the Spanish healthcare system with more than 40 healthcare centres spread out over Madrid, Galicia, Castilla and León, Castilla La Mancha and Catalonia. Currently, HM Hospitales employs and supports more than 5,000 families, and the number of associated doctors exceeds 4,000.
Dr Abarca Campal has been given dozens of awards by the media, professional associations, and companies in the health and insurance sector. The most noteworthy of these, without a doubt, is the “Cruz Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” granted by Pope John Paul II in 2005. Other significant commendations include the Seneca award from the Association of Health Journalists and the Great Cross of Madrid Health which was awarded by the Community of Madrid in recognition of the doctor’s extraordinary contribution to the medical sector in the Spanish capital over 30 years. It is also important to highlight that Dr Abarca Campal was recognized with the Grand Cross of Military Merit, an award which he was given for saving the life of a soldier who had been seriously wounded in the thorax by the blades of a helicopter.
Dr Abarca Campal has written a memoir entitled “Five Litres of Blood” which reveals the doctor’s humanism and vitality. As well, the text outlines some of the doctor’s lessons on the correct organisation of a hospital. On top of this, the book contains the basis for a sustainable model for the Spanish healthcare system which combines both public and private elements in the best interests of patients. It also explains the extent to which lives should be fought for and the extent to which, when life can’t be saved, suffering should be alleviated. Dr Abarca Campal’s memoirs are the perfect way to get to know the doctor. Besides illuminating the medical aspect to Dr Abarca Campal’s life, the book also illustrates the doctor’s entrepreneurial side.
“As a surgeon, there are days when I don’t want to get up such is my fear of encountering complications in a patient. As a businessman, I wanted to wake up early and solve problems,” says Dr Abarca Campal in the volume.
Dr Abarca Campal has written numerous articles for major newspapers in which he has defended medicine and the medical profession. The doctor has also published numerous scientific pieces. Notable titles of these scientific texts include: ‘Alterations of Plasma Proteins in Gastric Neoplasms’, ‘Aortic Stenosis’, ‘Hereditary Colon Telangiectasias’, ‘Surgical Anomalies of the Treitz Angle’, ‘Argumosa: Life and Surgical Work’, ‘Assessment of the D’Or Technique in Esophageal Hernias’ and ‘Total Duodenopancreatectomies (personal experience 11 cases)’. Dr Abarca Campal was also a member of the Spanish Society of Digestive Diseases, the Spanish Society of General Surgery, and the International College of Surgeons.
The doctor’s healthcare philosophy is well summarized in the “Decalogue of a Hospital”. The commandments remain vital to HM Hospitales to this day. The rules have allowed the company to become one of the most important operators in the Spanish healthcare system. Medical professionals are not complete if they do not understand the importance of research and teaching, and the doctor’s rules have allowed for these pillars to be introduced as essential parts in the HM Hospitales’ operation.
In 2000, Dr Abarca Campal was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The doctor continued to work despite the disease until the inauguration in 2014 of the Hospital Universitario HM Puerta del Sur y del Centro Integral de Neurociencias AC, HM CINAC.
In 2012, when the doctor was asked to be the honorary president of the first class of graduates in medicine at the HM Hospitales he said to the students: “I urge you to love and defend life despite all limitations or illnesses”.
Dr Abarca Campal was Hippocratic in how he understood the medical profession. At all HM Hospitales centres the Hippocratic Oath presides alongside the ‘Decalogue of a Hospital’.
Interested parties can discover many other fascinating details about the life of Dr Abarca Campal in the wealth of existing written documentation.