I grew up in abject poverty in a barrio in El Paso, Texas. Looking back on my childhood, one of my first memories plays a significant role in the course I have chosen for my life. I was a toddler, and I remember my mother sat me on the chest of an older man. Half of his face moved normally and the other half was paralyzed. My mother and grandma tasked me with rubbing bacon fat and flour onto the skin of his chest. I was left with the feeling of helplessness.
When I was older, I asked my mother about the memory, and she told me that the man was my grandfather. And that bacon grease and flour was the traditional Mexican treatment for stroke victims.
Looking back, it is that feeling of helplessness that drives me. I have pursued many educational opportunities so that I could stop feeling helpless. Now I am an esophagus specialist who performs research in genetic epidemiology. I hold dual appointments in gastroenterology and hepatology, and otorhinolaryngology. After 16 years of school beyond high school, I feel useful. I work a lot, and I love caring for patients with problems that I am good at solving, like Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer.
My goal is to diminish the mortality rate of esophagus cancer in my lifetime. On my deathbed, I want to see the esophageal cancer death rate flash in my head from when I started my gastroenterology fellowship in 1993 alongside the current death rate. The current death rate had better be lower!
I am not an egomaniac; I know I can't do it by myself. I work with nearly 160 physicians to identify families who have Barrett's esophagus and cancer in their lineage and, together, we look for the genes for those diseases. As part of that work, I coordinate the Esophageal Adenocarcinoma and Barrett's Esophagus Registry, which permits me to collaborate with more than 100 additional physicians and scientists.
Each day as I go about my patient care and research activities, I have the work of the Mayo brothers and Henry Plummer in my head, and it inspires me to strive for excellence. Here at Mayo, the needs of the patient come first, and as a result, Mayo is the No. 1 medical center in GI. I feel so spoiled and fortunate to be practicing here. To be considered as a peer of some of the great clinicians and researchers I read about in my training continues to astonish me.
Dec. 07, 2011