Shortly after his birth in Cuba, Christian Machado and his family fled to Nicaragua. As a teenager, Machado was forced to flee with his family, immigrating to the U.S. as a refugee following political unrest. He worked two jobs and attended school full time. He eventually earned a full scholarship to attend medical school.
Despite humble beginnings, Machado has gone on to become a physician, an internationally recognized speaker on cardiac pacing and electrophysiology , and serves as director of electrophysiology at Providence-Providence Park Hospital in Michigan, part of Ascension. About 10 years ago, he began traveling to Latin American countries to help give people the care they need. The ministry has since grown to a team of five electrophysicists and six nurses who make the annual trip—performing free ablations and transplants for those who could not otherwise afford them.
Halfway around the world, Mateo Ziu was born in Albania, where a chance encounter with Mother Teresa changed his trajectory forever. His parents were selected to receive green cards through the U.S. diversity visa lottery, and after medical school in Italy, Ziu obtained a visa and joined them. He has since become a neurosurgical oncologist at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, part of Ascension. He treats some of the most emotionally and medically challenging cases, caring for brain cancer patients who often have very poor prognoses, sometimes with only a few months to live.
Diana Sepehri-Harvey's uncle helped sponsor her family's move from Iran to California in 1995 while she was still in high school. Although math and science came easy for her, language proved more challenging. She would pore over history homework with multiple dictionaries open at once—Farsi to English, English to Farsi and an English thesaurus. It took her an hour per page to understand the words, but she was determined not to fall behind in school. She went on to become a Paul and Daisy Soros fellow, a scholarship open to only 30 first-generation American immigrants a year. That scholarship paved the way for her and so many others to pursue their dreams of higher education. She now serves as a primary-care physician in family medicine at St. Thomas Medical Partners in Tennessee, also part of Ascension.
Although their stories vary, the thread of bold perseverance, family bonds and a passion to care for people in need runs through all of their lives.
It's hard to imagine a nation and a healthcare ministry without the selflessness, hard work and care of those who came to our shores to build a better life.
These physicians rose out of poverty, political turmoil and a disenfranchised past to become healthcare professionals. At Ascension they share their upbringing, culture, language and an approach to problem-solving that spreads diversity in a way that could not otherwise be possible. And, much like the patients they encounter, the challenges they faced now stand as a testament to what is possible in the midst of adversity.
Miguel Gutierrez-Diaz worked as a migrant farm laborer in California for $3.50 an hour when he first emigrated from Mexico. Eventually, he made it to college in Massachusetts while continuing to work 45-50 hours a week to support his family back in Mexico. After earning a scholarship to medical school, he became a family medicine physician and now practices with Sacred Heart Medical Group in Florida, part of Ascension.
Heong P'ng's home in Malaysia had one bathroom shared with the 20 others living there. Now he serves as medical director of ED services for Ascension St. Clare's Hospital and Ascension Medical Group in Wisconsin.
For the handful of stories shared here, there are literally hundreds more. Of Ascension's 150,000 caregivers, thousands are recent immigrants, 500 are DACA-eligible and 74% of those associates are clinicians. And that doesn't scratch the surface of all the countless caregivers in healthcare organizations and settings across the country who immigrated here with the hopes of a better life. The challenge of leaving a place called home for an uncertain future has made these brave men and women stronger, more resilient, more caring and more compassionate.
I commend the immense determination of first-generation immigrants, whether they are naturalized U.S. citizens or not, and whether they provide compassionate care or receive it. Our country would be less without them. Let us as a nation regard their needs, celebrate their spirit and enable them to live the American dream.
Anthony R. Tersigni is president and CEO of Ascension.