ORLANDO - When he was growing up in Chile, Sergio Larach was surrounded by healers. His mother and father were dentists. His uncle was a professor of gastrointestinal surgery, and other family members were nurses and healthcare providers. So, even as a very young child, he was aware it was a special occupation that required special people.
So, perhaps it is not surprising that at 10 years old Larach realized he shared a similar mindset and destiny. "I was being taught how to hunt," he recalled. As he held a dead sparrow in his hand, "I realized I was very sad and I swore not to do it again," he said. "I knew I would feel better about helping animals. It was a turning point for me," he said.
In 1961 Larach entered medical school at the University of Chile in Santiago, and spent the next 12 years completing his internship and two residences in Chile, before making a decision to continue his training in the U.S. On his way to interview for surgical residency jobs in New York and Boston in 1973, he stopped in Orlando to visit a colleague he knew from Chile. "He asked me to interview for a general surgery residency, so I did. As I continued my travels to Boston and New York, I got a call offering me the position in Orlando. I made the decision in a moment," said Larach.
After three years at Orlando Regional Medical Center, Larach accepted a fellowship in colorectal surgery at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. But as soon as he finished, he bee-lined it back to Orlando, where he joined with Don Robertson, MD, "who was the only colorectal surgeon in town at the time," Larach said. That practice evolved into the Colon & Rectal Clinic of Orlando, where Larach worked for the next 25 years. He owned and operated the Colon & Rectal Disease Center from 2002-2009 before helping to create another colorectal program with a physicians group at Florida Hospital.
In 2014, Larach said he wanted to "sort of slow down, so I looked for a place where I could continue to work and that would give me the opportunity to use my knowledge, but at the same time not assume a heavy workload." That is when he joined the team at Digestive & Liver Center of Florida.
"I come here three days a week and I do endoscopy procedures and ano-rectal surgeries. And I am developing what is the most important part: A pelvic floor center where we do studies for people with the major problems of constipation and fecal incontinence. That is a very prevalent issue and we are helping people here in an outpatient setting," he said.
Larach said his schedule also allows him time to feed his lifelong passion for teaching. "I maintain my relationship with the Florida Hospital group in teaching fellows. I'm in surgery with them and I go into their classes," he said. In addition, medical students from the University of Central Florida College of Medicine and the Florida State University College of Medicine come regularly to the Digestive & Liver Disease Center for one month-rotations. "It is very enlightening to maintain that contact," said the soft-spoken 71-year-old.
Larach said he was "a pioneer in developing laparoscopic colon and rectal surgery, followed by robotic surgery, and finally developed with two partners a technique for trans-anal resection that now has worldwide acceptance." Larach added that he wishes to continue innovating in the field of colorectal surgery. "I love teaching and I love to be involved with the younger generations."
Larach stays active outside the clinic and surgery center. His wife, a native of Switzerland, recently retired as an investment advisor with Merrill Lynch. They both are in their second marriages, have four adult sons between them, and "this year will increase the family with four grandbabies," he said. "We enjoy condo life with our two dogs, visiting with our friends and traveling," he said.
Larach is also a sailor. He has a sea-worthy 36-footer that he sometimes sails to Miami, the Florida Keys and the Virgin Islands. But most outings are "trips to nowhere" off the coast of Melbourne, where he docks his boat.
Over the years, Larach has joined humanitarian medical missions to remote areas in South America, Central America and Africa. "I helped people who had not seen a doctor in 60 years. Very interesting and very rewarding," he said.
But Larach's latest involvement with a charitable organization is the EarthWeb Foundation, a nonprofit with the motto "Earth's Sake for Our Sake."
"Simply put, it is about taking care of Mother Earth," said Larach, a member of the board. Besides supporting global issues that include, climate, hunger, agriculture and ecosystem sustainability, Larach said his role and that of other physicians has been to provide healthcare access to the poor, which has taken them to the Honduras, Haiti and the Amazon.
Larach said his philanthropy also includes "helping students here in Orlando achieve their goals of going to college."