Ricardo Castaneda, Psychiatrist With Many Talents, Dies at 64


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Ricardo Castaneda was an avid caricaturist who could often be found at New York Philharmonic concerts or the Metropolitan Opera — in the front row, when possible — scribbling away at sketches of the performers. He illustrated beginner books on psychiatry and addiction. He tried his hand at writing screenplays and composing opera.

For his day job, Dr. Castaneda served as the director of inpatient psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan from 1992 to 2009, before entering private practice as a clinical psychiatrist on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Dr. Castaneda died on March 25, shortly after being admitted to Tisch Hospital of N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 64. His wife, Ana Lucia Fuentes, said the cause was complications of the coronavirus.

Dr. Castaneda was a man of many talents who transferred his faith in human accomplishment to his patients.

“He totally believed in people,” Ms. Fuentes said. “He had this view that if you had any unfulfilled desires, that’s just going to stop you. You need to just use your imagination, get past that and don’t dwell on things that are out of your reach. He was an extremely sensitive person, and I think his own experiences shaped that.”

Dr. Castaneda was born on July 9, 1955, in Guatemala City. His father was an obstetrician and gynecologist; his mother was an art restorer. His own path straddled the two fields.

While in medical school at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, Dr. Castaneda volunteered to treat victims of Guatemala’s 1976 earthquake, which killed more than 20,000 people and injured more than 75,000.

He moved to the United States in 1980 and began an internship and residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. He eventually landed in the field of psychiatry.

He remembered an old acquaintance from Guatemala City with whom he had lost touch, a woman who had moved to Canada after her father, a prominent political figure, was assassinated in 1979. Dr. Castaneda tracked down her contact information in 2000, and the two reconnected. Phone calls turned to meet-ups, and after two years of taking turns visiting each other, he and Ms. Fuentes married.

Credit…Ricardo Castaneda

Empathy and a hunger for social interaction informed Dr. Castaneda’s approach to treating patients and creating art, said his daughter, Michelle Castaneda.

He would chat with everybody in a room, sing loudly in tiny places and draw caricatures of strangers in restaurants and parks, always giving the sketches to his subjects.

“He just kind of treated everybody that way,” his daughter said.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Castaneda is survived by a son and four stepchildren.

As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, Dr. Castaneda continued to treat patients through teleconferencing. On the morning of March 25, he asked his wife to remember to pack his computer and charger for his hospital stay.

He was scheduled to chat with a patient that afternoon. Ms. Fuentes kept urging him to rest.

“One of the last messages he texted me was ‘I have patients I have to save,’” Ms. Fuentes said. “You know, I just wanted to tie him down or something. But when I think back on it now, that was just him.”

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