Breast Cancer Physician Named “Outstanding Hispanic”

A Miller School physician known for his passion in the fight against breast cancer has been honored for that work and much more on a national stage. Orlando E. Silva, M.D., J.D., associate professor of medicine and faculty member of the Jay Weiss Center for Social Medicine and Health Equity, was chosen to receive the “Outstanding Hispanic Award” at The Americano’s First Annual Hispanic Forum, held in Washington, D.C.

The December 2nd ceremony was hosted by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Among other attendees were former Prime Minister of Spain José Maria Aznar, U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, and award winning columnist for The Washington Post, Alvaro Vargas-Llosa.

Silva, a medical oncologist with the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and member of the prestigious Iron Arrow Society at the University of Miami, has dedicated his life to serving others. He has been a shining light to thousands of women battling breast cancer and countless other patients he sees on the more than two dozen medical missions he has led over the last eight years.

Over this time, more than 3,000 physicians, residents, medical students, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and other volunteers from around the world, including over 50 attending physicians from the Miller School, have been recruited by Silva to take trips for Emmaus Medical Missions (EMM), the organization he founded in 2002.

The Americano is a magazine and website focused on news that affects Hispanics across America and globally. The Outstanding Hispanic Award was one of three given at the Forum, putting Silva in prestigious company. The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was honored with the Freedom Award for fighting for democracy in Latin America.

In presenting the award, Silva was described as an “inspirational human being who has dedicated his life to selflessly serving others either in the fight against breast cancer or to the thousands who meet him in his medical missions to Latin America.”

In 2002, his keen desire to help others coalesced when he met a 75-year-old Cuban woman named Leonor Portela. She was spending hours each week rescuing children in Guatemala who were thrown into the garbage to die. When they met in Miami, she asked him simply, “When are you coming to see my kids?” They now see more than 3,000 patients on their three-day trips, and have started the only free neurologic clinic for children with autism, cerebral palsy and other pervasive neurologic disorders operating in Central America. Currently they are treating 157 children who each receive seven therapies a day, medications, diagnostic tests including CT scans, lunch and transportation at no cost to them. Silva sponsors this clinic through funds he raises by running one marathon per year.

Over the last eight years, Silva has organized several trips each year to Guatemala, Ecuador, Haiti and Peru. For each trip, he uses his own vacation time, and gathers volunteers and donated supplies in order to treat a variety of illnesses in both young and old. He says there is purity in merging the physician’s knowledge and vocation with the available medicine to heal patients. “You feel this huge hug back from heaven.”

Several medical universities, both national and international, including the University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins, Emory, Stanford, University of Texas, Georgetown, Florida International University, and Florida State University have supported the missions by providing attending physicians, residents and medical students. EMM has even become the official humanitarian relief effort of the University of North Carolina Pediatric Department, which encourages and sponsors attending physicians and residents who participate.

The Cuban-born doctor followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a physician. However, it was the death of his mother that made him focus on breast cancer. During his fellowship at Duke University, he saw that when a woman died, it left entire families devastated. Silva says he “could identify with the pain and suffering they were experiencing.”

Silva’s acceptance speech centered on a question that he posed to the audience, telling attendees it was a life-long query to answer within themselves – “What are you going to do with your hands to change the world?” He concluded his remarks with the phrase that his mother said as she kissed them goodnight, becoming the family motto: “Siempre Norte (Always North).” The phrase really meant, “Overlook mediocrity and keep your eyes focused on Heaven and on your dreams, follow your gut even if you stand alone!” The crowd responded with a long standing ovation.

Silva says he’s delighted that his humanitarian work is being recognized because “it will increase the awareness of the needs of the forgotten people of this world, and serve as a stepping stone for others to get involved.” He says he has felt an obligation to share “all the blessings I’ve received from this great nation and take that to other places in the world.” He is currently working with Colombian singer Shakira and her organization, “Pies Descalzos,” to take EMM to Cartagena and Barranquilla. He also hopes to one day “take the mission to other underserved parts of the world like Nigeria and India.”

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