At the time of the accident, Canessa was a 19 year old medical student. His fianceé was Laura Surraco, the daughter of a doctor.
It was Canessa who suggested to his fellow survivors that in order to stay alive, they should eat the flesh of the deceased victims of the crash. Together with Fernando Parrado, he spent 10 days trekking through the Andes in search of help for the survivors.After the rescue, Canessa recounted how his drive to escape from the mountains was fueled by the thought of his mother and his girlfriend. He later married Laura Surraco, and they have two sons and a daughter. He works as a cardiologist and motivational speaker.
Canessa was a candidate in the 1994 Uruguayan presidential elections. He lost to the former President, Julio María Sanguinetti Coirolo, who was returned to power.