Dr. Jorge Eduardo Alvernia, the eldest of five children, remembers sitting on his father’s lap, learning to read and write at 6 years old. His father, Jorge Antonio Alvernia, nourished his son’s first loves: art and science.
“When I was a young child, my dad acquired books featuring world-renowned artists, like da Vinci and Michelangelo. I can still remember those books on our shelves. I started making drawings of my own, and it became my passion,” he said. “My dad knew I also liked to create experiments, so he made a chemistry lab in our house when I was 8 or 9 years old.”
While his father recently died at 80, his contributions endure: Alvernia is a board-certified neurosurgeon who has drawn several illustrations for medical journals, including the cover for the Journal of Neurosurgery. He has practiced in Monroe since 2011.
“Those beautiful drawings from my childhood made me more curious about the human body,” he said.
A Colombia native, Alvernia said he was also profoundly affected by how his father—who attended seminary, but ultimately became an engineer—lived.
On Saturday afternoons, Alvernia accompanied his father to the Colombian suburbs where they distributed food to people living in cardboard houses. On Sunday mornings, he watched his father teach Sunday School to children and adults.
“My dad lived his life like a priest; he never liked luxury, despite his brothers being rich. South American culture is very flashy, and my peers strived for that. We had enough money to live, but there was never an ambition to be rich. Money was not the goal. My dad lived by this philosophy, which still influences me today.”
His father found another way to encourage his son’s talents. Responding to the Catholic traditions for May, the month of Mary, his father helped create parade floats, and he asked his son to draw portraits of Mother Mary to adorn the floats.
“He knew I liked to draw, so I made those for him,” he said.
Alvernia’s childhood in Colombia was “happy.” His mother, Fabiola Alvernia Silva, stayed at home, was a “great cook, and a very resourceful person.” She often repaired things in the house; her family named her the “handywoman.” If a radio or TV was broken, she fixed it, he said.
His academic career accelerated from a young age. He was promoted early to first grade, attended a Jesuit school with a scholarship, and graduated valedictorian of his class at just 16. He also won local and state mathematic championships. He served as class president, boy scout leader, and academic tutor—always leading students older than himself.
“Mentoring older kids was challenging,” he said. “However, those experiences really toughened me up. I learned life was not going to be a walk in the park.”
He was right. Although he ranked in the top of his class during medical school, he was not initially chosen for entrance into the Colombian Neurological Institute, due to lack of political connections, he said. “I was told, ‘You’re never going to be a neurosurgeon.’” Alvernia persevered; he applied again and succeeded.
Prior to his training, Alvernia read every relevant book he could find until he felt “ready.” He also relied upon his childhood passion: art. “I created drawings and placed them on my wall–my art helped me learn the books by heart. I literally surrounded myself with my studies.”
The study of language—French and English—taught Alvernia about people. “When you learn new languages, you have to learn to read people very well. I was making hospital rounds during my fellowship in France, and I couldn’t understand what people were saying. Making rounds was difficult—everyone else understood the language, but me. So, I had to learn to understand other social cues.”
Alvernia, who performs cases at P&S Surgical Hospital, is often described as “kind.” Sara Duncan, a manager in the P&S operating room department, said her colleagues “truly enjoy” working with him.
“Dr. Alvernia loves his patients. He takes time to sit with them and answer any questions they may have. He is also a very caring person. We really enjoy working with him,” she said.
Alvernia, who mostly performs spine surgeries, enjoys his profession because it allows him the opportunity to educate his patients and alleviate their chronic pain. He typically hand-draws a picture of the patient’s spine condition and his suggested revision. This gives the patient a “crystal clear understanding” of the treatment plan.
“During the last 25 years, I have witnessed the evolutions and alternatives to treating brain and spine conditions in three different continents; this has given me the tools to provide the best care to my patients.”
Alvernia also focuses on alternative treatment methods, such as therapy. “There are other options besides just cutting. I always ask myself, ‘What is best for the patient?’ I strive for the less invasive options first. I also like a good challenge, and I enjoy helping people. That’s how I was raised.”
His commitment to helping others continues through his work in academia. He is an associate faculty member in the Neurosurgery Department at the University of Mississippi, where he teaches monthly. He has written more than 40 publications in international peer review journals and several chapters in neurosurgery textbooks. He is also a peer reviewer for several international journals.
Alvernia operates his practice with his wife and Monroe native Courtney Bryant, who manages the office. They met in 2007 at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, where Courtney was an ICU nurse, and he was completing his neurosurgical residency. They have three sons, Bryant, Luke, and John Pierre, and they are expecting a girl, who will be named Silva Grace, after his mother.
The grandchildren benefit from the examples set forth by Alvernia’s father so many years ago.
“Instead of giving them a lot of material things, I make time to play with them,” he said. “Our son Bryant loves art, and we promote his talents by encouraging him. I try to lead by example and remain simple, humble, quiet, calm and patient. My dad always told us: ‘Bring peace into our home.’ In many ways, I’m raising my children the same way my father raised me.”
By Laura Clark