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State celebrates health university president’s formal inauguration

With a promise and a plan to propel The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) into the “top tier of academic health centers in the nation,” Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., was installed officially Sept. 7 as the third president of South Texas’ preeminent medical research and education center.

More than 1,000 leaders from South Texas, the United States and Mexico held a formal ceremony to celebrate the presidency of the native Texan, who studied in the nation’s premier medical institutions.

Dr. Cigarroa is a nationally renowned pediatric transplant surgeon, educated at Yale, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. He joined the UTHSC in 1995, and served as the director of pediatric surgery before his presidential appointment last October. He gained international recognition in 1997 when he served on the surgical team that split a donor liver for transplant into two recipients; it was the first operation of its kind in Texas. In 2000, he led the team that performed South Texas’ first successful pediatric small bowel transplant.

As he accepted the presidential medallion this morning, Dr.Cigarroa pledged to fulfill the charge outlined in the state Constitution, which calls for a “university of the first class.” It was the first reference in history to The University of Texas.

“I think about that phrase a lot. A university of the first class… all of us who have a stake in this Health Science Center are committed to that mandate,” Dr. Cigarroa said. “My overarching goal can be stated rather simply: to take this Health Science Center to the top tier of academic health centers in the nation.”

Dr. Cigarroa says the university is already taking important steps to reach that goal. Among his plans to elevate the Health Science Center status: an M.D./Ph.D. program, enabling medical students to become physician-scientists, and investment in the university’s technology and educational infrastructure.

“The research that emanates from here has had major, life-changing impact on all of humanity. I say that with confidence,” Dr. Cigarroa said, citing faculty developments such as the Palmaz Stent, now used in more than two million procedures a year, an expandable titanium rib designed to help babies breathe and a mouth guard to protect young athletes from injury.

Dr. Cigarroa addressed a crowd of notable donors, including former Gov. Dolph Briscoe and San Antonio businessman Sam Barshop, as well as state senators and local officials. University of Texas Regents Patrick C. Oxford of Houston and Cyndi Krier Taylor of San Antonio were part of the presidential party that presented Dr. Cigarroa with the university medallion, symbolizing the authority invested in the president.

“He is doing excellent job,” Gov. Briscoe said. “His enthusiasm, even his work ethic, is contagious. Under his direction, the university will continue bringing the finest medical care to some of the most underserved areas of the state.”

Dr. Cigarroa emphasized the university’s expansion throughout South Texas, including the growth of the UTHSC’s new campuses in San Antonio, Edinburg, Harlingen and Laredo.

Dr. Cigarroa also focused on the students, promising to increase scholarship funding in an effort to address the shortage of doctors in South Texas. “I have another commitment to the future. It can best be described by a phrase I use often: No closed doors. Bright, dedicated, young people should never be denied the opportunity to attend the Health Science Center because of a lack of financial resources, “ Dr. Cigarroa said.

A scholarship recipient spoke on behalf of the student body during the Investiture greetings. Arturo Portillo, the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Presidential Scholar, told the audience that Dr. Cigarroa was an inspiration to every student, in the Health Science Center’s five schools, encompassing medical, nursing, dental, graduate research and allied health professions. “Your commitment to excellence and your dedication to the health professions are legendary,” Portillo said. “My pledge to you today, representing the students of this great university, is that we will not let you down. We are being given a wonderful education, and we will use it to serve the people of Texas.”

The Cigarroa family has served South Texas for several generations. Dr. Cigarroa’s father has practiced medicine in Laredo; he followed in the footsteps of his physician father. Dr. Cigarroa’s brother, Joaquin, is also a practicing physician and assistant professor at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Dr. Cigarroa and his wife, Graciela, an attorney, have two daughters, Maria Cristina, 13, and Barbara Carisa, 10.

Contact: Will Sansom or Amanda Gallagher