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Grace After Fire: Veterans Group Helps Women Vets Help Themselves



Facing homelessness and battling PTSD, trauma, and disability, US Navy veteran Olivia Zavala Carridine was struggling.  She found a lifeline in Grace After Fire.  Olivia, a mother of four in San Antonio, got pivotal support from the women veteran’s organization – which aims to provide women the resources and tools to succeed in her community, work, and home after leaving the military.  “[Grace After Fire] has empowered me to believe that I shouldn't be ashamed of my story,” she said. “I have a sisterhood with women that I didn't have many times with my sisters serving alongside me.”  Olivia got back on her feet with the help of Grace After Fire – and she’s not the only one.  Grace After Fire Origins  Some wars take place on a battlefield, standing toe ...

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Tony Rentas: A ‘Soldado’ Helping Others Fight Battles Against Brain Tumors



Growing up in Puerto Rico, Tony Rentas dreamed of joining the U.S. military. He wanted to serve his country, set a good example for his son, and make sure his family was taken care of. In 2009, he joined the U.S. Army, making his dream a reality. Tony served as a military intelligence specialist. Over a dozen years, he deployed twice, traveled around the world, made great friends, experienced different cultures, helped people, and provided for his family. Then he got some harrowing news. After suffering a temporal lobe seizure, Tony – a husband and father of two children –was diagnosed with a low grade glioma, a type of cancerous brain tumor, in June 2020. “I remember walking out of that appointment, sitting in the car, just trying to process things. A couple of tears ...

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Dr. Carlos Salama: Protecting Latinos Against Infectious Diseases



Carlos Salama’s father helped people every day as a physician. Inspired by what he saw, Salama knew at an early age that he, too, wanted to help others the way his father did. “People were just very, very grateful for what he provided them. I thought, ‘I want to do this,’” Salama said. Salama was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Argentinian parents. Salama’s mother and father first came to the United States in the mid-1960s for his father’s residency after he completed medical school at the University of Buenos Aires. Salama recalls helping his parents and two siblings in the doctor’s office. “I used to go with my father to the office, sometimes on the weekends, and help them. My mother was the office assistant, but I would do it sometimes, and I just ...

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More Than Meets the Eye: How Surviving Colon Cancer Transformed Marielle Santos McLeod’s Advocacy Work



Marielle Santos McLeod thought she knew a lot about cancer care.  Years as a health professional had given her time to learn about cancer care and gain a closer look at the barriers Latinos face in getting equitable treatment.  That’s why, when the mother of four was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 36, she was shocked by just how little she really knew.  However, it was enduring the disease as a young Latina that guided her toward her life's purpose – serving as a patient advocate to uplift the voice of Latino cancer survivors.  “I love advocacy .... It's like one of the things that I'm convinced that I was put on this earth to do. I just had to get cancer to get to it first,” Santos McLeod said.  Spanish-Language Influence  Santos McLeod doesn’t believe ...

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Martha Castilla: Promoting Health & the COVID-19 Vaccine for Latinos



Martha Castilla loves helping people.   Her compassion started as a young girl, as her family came to San Antonio from Mexico.   “I started helping my brothers and sisters when we got to this country because they didn't speak English,” Castilla said.   Today, Castilla works as a promotora de salud, or a community health worker, educating the Latino community about health and wellness.  That includes getting the COVID-19 vaccine herself – and sharing how others can, too.  COVID-19 vaccines are available and free for adults and children, and they’re the best way to protect yourself and your familia against the worst outcomes of the virus.  Because, when the pandemic hit, Latinos like Castilla were on the front lines.   “I remember when we went to ...

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Stormee Williams: Helping Screen Families for Social Needs in Dallas



At her annual wellness visit, Dr. Stormee Williams filled out a digital questionnaire that asked about her need for help with housing, transportation, food access, and other non-medical needs. Williams was taking an “SDoH Screener.” An SDoH screener is a questionnaire to help healthcare workers identify a patient’s issues with the social determinants of health (SDoH), the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of social, economic, and political systems that shape life. If a screener finds a patient in need, healthcare workers can then connect the patient to community support and resources. Helping patients address these non-medical needs can help them achieve better health. Williams, fortunately, didn’t have non-medical ...

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Dr. Juanita Mora: A Voice for the Latino Community and Infection Control



Juanita Mora recalls the exact moment that inspired her to be a doctor.  Her mother had fallen ill with kidney disease. A young Mora served as translator between her Spanish-speaking mother and her English-speaking doctor.   “I remember turning to my mom and saying 'Mommy, why does it take so long to see the doctor?' And she turns around and says, 'Because there's not enough doctors who speak Spanish,’” Mora recalled.   Mora went on to earn her doctorate in medicine, becoming a highly accomplished physician and making a difference for her patients in their own language.  As a leader in the field of allergy and immunology and a fellow with the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), she is delivering culturally competent care and practicing infection control ...

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Dr. Veronica Ramirez: Keeping Her Community Healthy with Infection Control



Dr. Veronica Ramirez is the first physician in her family.   The youngest of four children, Ramirez grew up in Escondido, California, with an interest in service. She watched her parents generously help others and give back to the community.   So, when Ramirez’s aunt, who she was very close to, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in her late 30s, Ramirez was motivated to take her service orientation to a new level – medical school – to help those like her aunt.   “Seeing her go through that experience inspired me to want to go into medicine to help others,” Ramirez said.   Ramirez has done more than achieve her goal.   As an assistant clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, a hospitalist with UCLA Health, and a fellow ...

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“I Couldn’t Feel More Blessed”: How Amber Lopez Found Hope Through Her Cancer Journey



News of a cancer diagnosis is the last thing anyone wants to hear.   It can be especially devastating for a teenager with no family history of cancer.   That was reality for Amber Lopez.  Lopez, a San Antonio resident who began experiencing symptoms around age 14, was eventually diagnosed with cervical cancer a few years later at 18.   “When you hear that word cancer, you’re kind of like, 'Oh, my God. OK. So, does that mean like, I’m going to pass away? How does this work?'” Lopez said.  Since her diagnosis, Lopez has overcome many challenges in her cancer journey.   Now she’s sharing her story through the Avanzando Caminos study at UT Health San Antonio to give hope to other Latino cancer survivors.   Navigating Her Cancer Diagnosis   Latinas ...

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