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Graciela Cigarroa: Making a difference through dedicated volunteerism

January 2006

by Natalie Gutierrez

When Graciela Cigarroa moved to San Antonio, she said she was thrilled to come back home to South Texas. As her husband, Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., took the reins as the third president of the Health Science Center in 2000, Mrs. Cigarroa saw the opportunity to help him make a difference in the lives of people in San Antonio, in her hometown of Laredo and throughout the Border region.

"My husband and I share a common love for Texas, Mexico and the people," Mrs. Cigarroa said. "The Health Science Center provides the opportunity for Francisco to do what he loves best — help people through surgery, especially children, and at the same time, lead this university to the next level of prominence among health science centers in the nation," she said. Dr. Cigarroa is a nationally renowned pediatric and transplant surgeon and the first Hispanic in the United States to lead a health science university.

From welcoming distinguished guests from throughout the world to their home, to attending groundbreaking and dedication ceremonies for the ever-growing Health Science Center, Mrs. Cigarroa’s role as the president’s wife keeps her busy. And as a practicing attorney and a mother of two daughters, one of whom is a freshman at Harvard and the other a sophomore at St. Mary’s Hall, it might seem that Mrs. Cigarroa would have no free time left. But she always manages to find ways to give more of her time.

Among the numerous community service projects in which she is involved, Mrs. Cigarroa dedicates much of her time to Health Science Center initiatives.
For three years, Mrs. Cigarroa has served as board chair of the Premature Infant Development (PREMIEre) Program, a follow-up program for high-risk infants who weigh less than 3 pounds, 9 ounces at birth. Mrs. Cigarroa said fund raising is critical because of the lack of public funding and private insurance for the developmental testing and follow up necessary for these infants.

"It is vital for the community to invest in these tiny children, who are our future, and I want to help make that happen," she said.

Mrs. Cigarroa also serves on the School of Nursing Advisory Council, presently chaired by Louise Beldon, to promote a greater understanding of the growing nursing shortage.

In addition, she serves on the community advisory board for the UTHSCSA Sex Education Program, which uses the "Worth the Wait" curriculum. Kristen Plastino, Pharm.D., M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is the program director. Through Mrs. Cigarroa’s efforts, the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association provided attorney volunteers who presented health information to parents, teachers and administrators.

An advocate for improved women’s and children’s health care in Texas, Mrs. Cigarroa is involved in the formation of an advisory council for the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health. The Health Science Center is one of only three academic centers in the nation designated as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is the only center of its kind in Texas. The center is a partnership of the Health Science Center, the University Health System and the Metropolitan Health District.

Last year, she and Dr. Cigarroa co-chaired, with Toby and Barbie O’Connor, a Saks Fifth Avenue benefit for the Children’s Cancer Research Institute. The event attracted a record 1,200 participants and raised more than $50,000 for cancer research.

"I am blessed to work with so many wonderful researchers, physicians, nurses, students, community leaders and so many others who are doing great things for this city and this state every day," Mrs. Cigarroa said. "I am proud to be a part of the Health Science Center family that is changing the future of South Texas and the world for the better."

Faculty and administrators say they are grateful to have Mrs. Cigarroa on their side.

"We are fortunate to have such a devoted champion as Mrs. Cigarroa," said Rajam Ramamurthy, M.D., medical director of the PREMIEre Program, and the William and Rita Head, in honor of their children, Brice and Gretchen, Distinguished Chair in Developmental and Environmental Neonatology. "She is a ray of sunshine in the lives of so many in this community. I have seen her give of herself to the neediest of the needy. She has a passion for excellence for this institution and genuine warmth toward all people."


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