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UT's Cigarroa to receive this year's Palmaz Award
August 25, 2014

Francisco Cigarroa recalls his association with Julio Palmaz, in which the famed Palmaz Stent was used.

By Peggy O'Hare, San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO - As a young attending physician, University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was mesmerized by radiologist Julio Palmaz, long recognized for inventing the world's first heart stent.

During Cigarroa's days as the first pediatric transplant surgeon at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio in the mid 1990s, he cared for the first child to undergo a liver transplant at the institution. Colleagues had only one recommendation when complications arose with the child's hepatic vein, and Cigarroa considered using a stent to keep the passage open.

"Oh, no, that's going to be very hard to do," Cigarroa recalled others telling him. "There's only one person who can do that, and that's Julio Palmaz, but good luck trying to get him to do it - he's always traveling."

Cigarroa, undeterred, went to Palmaz's office and knocked on the door.

"I said, 'Hey, Julio, you don't know me, but I'm Dr. Cigarroa, and I've done this liver transplant on this patient, and here's the problem. And everybody says nobody can do it except you. And, you know, I think you can do it.'

"And sure enough, he took the challenge," Cigarroa recalled, laughing. "And you know, he was there fiddling for about four hours. He was one of the most famous interventional radiologists in the world ... and he wasn't going to leave that (operating) room until he fixed it. And the kid's alive and doing great today, all because of Julio Palmaz and the Palmaz Stent."

Because of that history, Cigarroa said he is "elated" and "extremely proud" to receive this year's Julio Palmaz Award, which recognizes those who have made significant contributions to advance health care and bioscience.

Cigarroa will formally receive the award, given annually by BioMed SA, a nonprofit group focused on San Antonio's health-care and bioscience fields, at the annual Palmaz Award dinner Sept. 18 at The Vista at Valero.

Cigarroa was nominated by Dr. William Henrich, the current president at San Antonio's health science center, a position that Cigarroa previously held.

Cigarroa will return to the medical school in San Antonio in January, after he steps down as UT chancellor to focus solely on pediatric and transplant surgeries.

As a third-generation physician who recalled seeing his father make house calls to patients in underserved areas in South Texas, Cigarroa advanced from pediatric surgery director to health science center president, a job he held for nine years. He then became the UT System's chief in 2009.

He has been recognized for helping establish additional UT medical schools in Austin and in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as a regional academic health center in Harlingen.

Cigarroa also drew recognition for performing, with Dr. Glenn Halff, the first successful small bowel transplant on a child in the San Antonio region in 2000. The patient, then a 7-year-old boy, could only be fed intravenously, but years of feedings had destroyed most of his veins. When the child had only one healthy vein left, his only option for survival was to undergo a transplant, Cigarroa said.

"I'm happy to say he's alive and well today," Cigarroa said.

When UT officials decided the research facilities at San Antonio's medical school had become outdated, Cigarroa worked to bring a new research facility spanning 190,000 square feet to the South Texas Medical Center. The $150 million South Texas Research Facility opened in 2011.

While serving as president at UTHSC San Antonio, Cigarroa also worked with the institution's medical dean at the time, Dr. Steven Wartman, to establish the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics there.

"I felt very strongly, as he did, that medicine was not only a science, but also an art," Cigarroa said. "I felt very strongly that we can't lose the bedside manner and (must) really enhance the relationship between patient and physician."

BioMed SA President Ann Stevens described Cigarroa as "a much beloved and respected figure" who continues to push forward both the science and art of medicine in the San Antonio region.

The group's chairman, Kenneth Trevett, wrote a letter seconding Cigarroa's nomination for the award.

"He remains an approachable leader, a thoughtful listener and a dedicated family man," Trevett wrote. "Dr. Cigarroa exemplifies the noble purpose of the Palmaz Award, to recognize those individuals locally and nationally who have demonstrated and promoted extraordinary innovation in biomedicine."

The reservation deadline for the award dinner is Sept. 12. Those interested should email Donna Miller at dmiller@biomedsa.org or call 210-229-2118.

 

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