November 8, 1980
By Ramon Renteria
Times staff writer
“He was a man sure of himself and very sincere,” Santos said.
Santos, a Juarez surgeon and kidney specialist, earned a medical reputation years ago in Juarez for treating injured bullfighters.
He gained national attention when the man called Sheppard suddenly died in his Juarez clinic at 2:50 a.m. Friday.
Sheppard, alias actor Steve McQueen, went to Santos’ Clinca de Santa Rosa looking for reprieve from the painful cancer that was killing him.
McQueen spent time in El Paso in 1972 during the filming here of “The Getaway.”
Santos said McQueen checked into the clinic at about 5 p.m. Wednesday after he had signed an agreement for an operation.
Santos and an assistant, Dr. Guillermo Bermudez, operated on McQueen Thursday to remove advanced cancerous tumors of the neck and stomach.
The operation was performed from 8 to 11 a.m. Thursday.
Santos said McQueen’s condition seemed to stabilize after the operation. But late Thursday he developed respiratory problems and died of heart failure a few hours later.
He was 50.
Santos said the actor knew the surgery would be risky.
“If it hadn’t been for the heart failure, I believe something could have been done to make his remaining days more pleasant,” Santos said.
Santos said McQueen might have lived another two or three months if he had not undergone an operation. The Juarez doctors removed a 5-pound tumor from the ailing actor’s abdomen.
“The cancer caused him serious pains. Unfortunately, the disease was too advanced in this case,” the surgeon said.
Santos accommodated a horde of reporters in his tiny office Friday afternoon and discussed why McQueen might have come to Mexico for treatment.
“He and his wife asked for the surgery because he suffered intolerable pain,” Santos said. He was under constant sedatives.”
Santos said McQueen lived about 13 hours after the operation. He was conscious and able to talk. For a while, the actor was able to eat small chunks of ice.
“He had a desire to live when he knew the race (against death) was at a short distance.” Santos said.
The actor was still in pain after the operation. But Santos said the actor told him the pain was not as severe as before the surgery.
Santos said the abdominal tumor was so large that it would have been only a matter of time before it would have choked him to death.
The surgeon said two friends of the family were at McQueen’s bedside when he died. Santos said McQueen’s wife, Barbara, and two children by a previous marriage, son Chad, 21, and daughter Terri, 20, had just left the clinic when he died.
Santos said he believes McQueen might have been referred to his clinic by other patients that he has treated for malignant cancer. The family did not want o subject the actor to publicity, he said.
“The press bothered him a lot when he was in Tijuana. He had a bad impression of journalist,” he said.
Santos said McQueen checked in using the pseudonym Samuel Sheppard, a Cleveland osteopath who was the defendant in tow sensational trials in the 1950’s and 1960’s allegedly for killing his wife. He eventually was acquitted.
McQueen was asleep when his heart failed and the doctor said he died without saying anything.