Anita Figueredo was a friend of the poor, a healer for many and a pioneer in her field.
She was the first female surgeon in San Diego County when she moved to La Jolla in 1947, and one of the first female doctors in the country to specialize in cancer treatment.
She was as comfortable sleeping on a straw mat in Calcutta, where she visited her friend Mother Teresa, as she was staying in luxurious hotels when she traveled with her husband, a La Jolla pediatrician.
She was the mother of nine and was devoted to her family but she always found time for her patients and civic and humanitarian work.
Dr. Figueredo died last Friday at her La Jolla home. She was 93. She suffered a cerebral hemorrhage two weeks before her death.
She was a tiny woman with a huge heart and a great capacity for giving and helping, friends and family members said. In the late 1950s she received many honors, including San Diego's Woman of the Year and a pontifical medal from the pope for her work with the church, the needy and the American Cancer Society. She was also a member of the La Jolla Town Council and a founding trustee of the San Diego College for Women, which later became the University of San Diego.
"She was never too busy to listen and to help others," said friend Jean Colarusso. "She was an amazing woman who was always thinking of others. When I moved here (in 1973), she got me busy (volunteering) in Mexico right away."
Dr. Figueredo later drafted Colarusso and the late Mary Rupp to help her establish the Friends of the Poor charity. Although Dr. Figueredo had spent years helping to feed, clothe and provide medical care to the needy in Baja California, it wasn't until 1982 that she started the nonprofit organization to give U.S. donors a tax-deductible incentive to contribute.
A native of Costa Rica, she was a child when she moved to New York with her mother. According to family lore, the daughter of a seamstress and a soccer player was 5 years old when she told her mother that she wanted to be a doctor. Since there were no medical schools or female doctors in Costa Rica at that time, mother and daughter made the move to the United States.
Her mother worked at a sweatshop and took in piecework to pay for her education. Dr. Figueredo graduated from Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York City and from the Long Island College of Medicine in the late 1930s. During World War II, the dearth of male physicians led to her becoming one of the first female surgical residents at a hospital specializing in cancer, which is now Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
She married William Doyle, a medical school classmate, in 1942, and they settled in La Jolla several years later.
Despite giving birth to nine children, Dr. Figueredo maintained a demanding practice in surgical oncology, said son-in-law Brent Eastman, who is chief medical officer of Scripps Health.
"She was my first surgical partner and was one of the best surgeons I ever practiced with. … She had unlimited energy, was exceedingly brilliant and incredibly modest," Eastman said. "She once walked straight from the (operating room) to the maternity ward, where she gave birth and returned to make rounds on her patient the following morning."
Dr. Figueredo revolutionized the approach to cancer in the county with her emphasis on prevention and detection, Eastman said. "She spoke out against smoking long before it was fashionable, and she introduced the (cancer-detection exam) Pap smear to San Diego," he said.
In the late 1950s, Dr. Figueredo read an article about Mother Teresa and her work. She sent a contribution and a letter, and was stunned when she got a response that grew into regular correspondence and a lasting friendship. They met in person in San Diego when Mother Teresa made her first speech outside India in 1960. They went on to work on several charitable projects together.
Eastman said Dr. Figueredo and Mother Teresa were very similar. "They were kindred spirits, though they led very different lives. They were devoted to the poor and they just made things happen."
Dr. Figueredo is survived by three daughters, Sarita Eastman of Rancho Santa Fe, Anita Doyle of La Jolla and Teresa Doyle of La Jolla; three sons, William Doyle of Santa Rosa, John Doyle of San Diego and Charles Doyle of La Jolla; 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband, William, and three sons, Robert, Thomas and Richard Doyle.
A memorial service and celebration of her life will be held at 2 p.m. March 19 at the Immaculata on the USD campus.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Friends of the Poor, 417 Coast Blvd., La Jolla, CA 92037; or friendsofthepoor.us
Published by San Diego Union-Tribune on Feb. 27, 2010.