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Golden Gloves

by Sandra Mathers

January 9, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Jose Borrero has donned surgical scrubs about 6,300 times during his 21 years in Altamonte Springs.

He has reattached 100 severed fingers, 12 severed toes, three severed wrists and reconstructed thousands of damaged veins, arteries and tendons.

And in the process, Borrero has become Central Florida's preeminent microsurgeon, specializing in limb reattachments.

He was one of the first surgeons in Florida to use powerfully magnified glasses to thread hair-thin nylon sutures into tiny needles to complete intricate operations taking up to eight hours.

Now his expertise routinely is sought around the world, from Paris to Mexico, where three weeks ago he performed intricate vascular surgery on a 3-month-old infant.

In 1978, his first year here, Borrero opened his Florida HAND Center, and with his sister, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Margarita Borrero, performed the first nerve transplant in Central Florida.

"I knew I wanted to be a hand surgeon when I went to medical school, but nobody was really doing it here [in the United States] yet," Borrero said.

"The first replantation of a severed finger was done in Japan in 1965."

That was the year Borrero -- second son of a Puerto Rican grocer -- graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in chemistry. His next four years were spent in medical school at the University of Puerto Rico, followed by a year's internship at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.

His five-year residency in vascular surgery was spent in the Air Force at Travis Air Force Base in California.

He finished two years of training in microsurgery at hospitals in Louisville, Kentucky, and San Francisco in 1978.

Today, at 55, Borrero -- known as "Pepi" -- is admired by his family, respected by his friends and colleagues and adored by former patients. Their framed letters of praise occupy a prominent spot on his waiting room wall.

"He's one of the best hand surgeons in the world and one of the best human beings," said close friend and colleague Dr. Manuel Gonzales, an Orlando orthopedic surgeon.

It's not unusual for Borrero to bring home-cooked meals to his hospital patients, Gonzales said.

That's one Jose Borrero. There are others.

The Borrero who loved boxing, pole vaulting and gymnastics at Syracuse University in the mid-'60s works out every other day and boxes "every week or so" in his home gym.

The Borrero who once wanted to follow his older brother into engineering designed and built his two-story Altamonte Springs office with a hint of hacienda and Spanish tile. It has a second-floor solarium office with a bright, airy hideaway feel.

The Borrero who learned to fly by the seat of his pants as a flight surgeon in the Air Force during the '70s built his first plane -- a two-seat Glasair -- from a kit seven years ago.

But the Borrero who donates his time and surgical skills to poor patients in Latin America and Europe is, perhaps, the least known. Sometimes he travels to them.

Sometimes poor foreign patients find the airfare to come to him. "Sometimes I put them up in my house" because they have no money, he said with shrug.

Three weeks ago, Borrero flew to Mexico to repair nerves damaged during delivery in the neck of a 3-month-old girl.

Borrero estimated he writes off about $175,000 a year in indigent medical bills.

"I am a very wealthy man . . . for not owing anyone money and for being happy with what I do," he said, grinning broadly. "And I like the fact that I am never bored."

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