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To mark National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15—Oct. 15), St. Jude spotlights the contributions of our Hispanic and Latin American doctors, scientists and staff, whose determination and focus are critical in advancing our global mission. Here, a few of them share what inspires their work.
Miguela Caniza, MD
National heritage: Paraguayan
Associate Member, St. Jude faculty | Infectious Diseases Program Director, International Outreach
In her 10 years at St. Jude, Miguela Caniza, MD, has helped save the lives of many children with cancer—but not by treating their cancer. Rather, she has used her expertise to help hospitals around the world protect young cancer patients from potentially deadly infections.
“What’s most rewarding is being able to impact local practitioners and show them different ways of doing things, and to have friendships with them,” she says. “I learn from them, and they allow me to share what I know. These are very smart people, fantastic people to work with, with big hearts. And this is what I like—to work with local champions.”
Raul C. Ribeiro, MD
National heritage: Brazilian
Member, St. Jude faculty
When Raul Ribeiro, MD, first heard of St. Jude, he was in a hospital in Brazil, desperately looking for ways to save his young leukemia patients. “I was told that there was a place in the United States that was curing leukemia, and I didn’t believe it,” he says. Intrigued, he visited the campus and became convinced. He has since spent more than 25 years at St. Jude developing better treatments for leukemia patients around the world.
The deep support St. Jude gives to families is critical in leveling the playing field for children with cancer, according to Ribeiro. “This is the dream of any physician, to work in a place where families don’t have to pay for care,” he says. “It’s a strong message that St. Jude sends—that everybody should be treated equally.”
Fatima Rivas, PhD
National heritage: Salvadorian
Assistant Member, St. Jude faculty
Could a simple plant hold a key to treating leukemia? Fatima Rivas, PhD, is betting on it. A chemist by training, she is using her skill to isolate thousands of naturally occurring compounds from medicinal plants and other materials, seeking the precious few with cancer-fighting potential. Botanists across North and South America help her in this work, sharing promising plants from their specialized collections.
Rivas joined the St. Jude faculty three years ago, lured by the possibility of turning her fundamental laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients. “The cutting-edge resources at St. Jude offer scientists the ability to take basic science to the clinic in a short period of time,” she says. “And that’s what should drive you—the fact that your work has the potential to save a child’s life.”
Victor M. Santana, MD
National heritage: Puerto Rican
Member, St. Jude faculty | Charles B. Pratt Chair in Solid Tumor Research | Vice President, Clinical Trials Administration | Associate Director for Clinical Research, St. Jude Cancer Center
Victor M. Santana, MD, has a love of St. Jude that has stayed strong through his 29 years at the hospital, where he focuses on discovering new treatments for children with solid tumors. “One of the most gratifying experiences I have as a doctor at St. Jude is to see those patients who survive, and who come back years later to visit us,” he says.
“Those experiences demonstrate that we really are all part of a bigger family,” he adds. “We feel honored when they come back and they say, ‘Look, we’re okay, we have a family, we’re working, we have integrated into society.’ I think that’s what gives us the most strength to go on to face new challenges.”
Beatriz Sosa-Pineda, PhD
National heritage: Mexican
Associate Member, St. Jude faculty
Beatriz Sosa-Pineda, PhD, has dedicated her 17 years at St. Jude to answering a question: How do organs form as the body develops? Her research gives insight into the origins of many life-threatening diseases, including cancer. “When a tumor develops, very often it hijacks the processes that are used during organ formation,” she says.
She draws motivation for her work from the beauty of the hospital surroundings and the close-knit environment that brings scientists into daily contact with patients and their families. “You see the children, and it’s inspiring,” she says. “It gives another reason for your research, beyond the gratification of doing science. You find the human relevance in what you do.”