Once upon a time in the city of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, a pathfinder was born. Her parents, Ana Delia and Antonio Coello named her Antonia Coello; the first of three children, and now known as Antonia Novello, she went on to become the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as Surgeon General of the United State.

Antonia was diagnosed with a medical condition at birth, which caused her so many pains while growing up, and interrupted the beautiful moments of her teenage days. She suffered congenital megacolon, an abnormality of the large intestine, which could only be corrected via a surgery procedure, she was made aware of the need for the procedure at age eight (8), but having lost her father at the same time,which lefther widowed mother with Antonia and her three siblings to take care of, it took another ten (10) years for the surgery to take place, frequently landing her in hospitals through her teenage years.

Ana Delia, Antonia’s was a schoolteacher who later became a junior high school and high school principal, primarily raising Antonia and her sisters on her own, she often stressed the importance of education. Delia later remarried.

Antonia’s health condition which was supposed to be corrected at the time when she turned eight put her through so much pain because her family could not afford the long trip to the surgical hospital, and she had to spend part of every summer getting interim treatment at a local hospital.

During this waiting period, Antonia was never deterred as she took her studies seriously, and made up her mind to become a doctor so that she could help other children suffering from health problems.Her experience with the disease left such an impact on her that she vowed to become a doctor so that “no other person would have to wait 18 years for surgery.

Life has so many challenges that may never end if we refuse to do something to it, but when we decide not to let our struggles define us, we are set for victory. Another interesting part about being great is using your struggles as a stepping stone to your great future.

In spite of the long-lasting sickness, Antonia was diligent with her studies, a bright student who excelled academically. Perhaps the sickness must have caused her to be reserved and sensitive because she was known as that rational child who had a good sense of humor and was very active in school activities.

Being the daughter of an educationist, she was well guided academically, and Delia, who always stressed the importance of education,stood by her daughter making sure that the disease was not a barrier for her to excel. She personally took her daughter tutorials on math and science, making sure that she was properly managed irrespective of the plague.

At age 15 Antonia graduated from high school and was admitted to study at the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Pedras. At age 18, she took a surgery to correct her medical condition which was not successful but the surgery was repeated when she was 20 at the renowned Mayo Clinic and this time, it was finally resolved to make her free to live normal after 20 years of waiting.

Anthoniagraduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 1965, with a Bachelor of Science degree. She decided to fulfill her dreams when she went on to study medicine at the same university. In 1970 Antonia graduated and got married to Joseph Novello.

Novello was a U.S Navy flight surgeon who changed to being a psychiatrist and a radio talk show host. The couple continued to live in Puerto Rico until Antonia was ready to begin her pediatrics internship training in nephrology (the study of the kidneys) at the University of Michigan Medical Center. The young couple moved to Ann Arbor in Michigan.

A year after she started her internship, Antonia won the Pediatrics Department Intern of the Year Award, as the first woman to receive the award. She remained at the pediatrics in Michigan until 1974, and continued her postgraduate work at Georgetown University before joining the private sector.

Antoniastarted her own private practice in Springfield, Virginia in 1976 where she worked as a pediatrician. She however came to the realization, that she did not have enough emotional detachment for the job,and sheeventually terminated her practice. In an interview thereafter, she stated that “When the pediatrician cries as much as the parents do, then you know it’s time to get out.”

She joined the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in 1978, working with the National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism and Digestive Disorders at the National Institutes of Health. She was eventually made the deputy director of the Institute of Child Health and Human Development, where she focused on pediatric AIDS. She stayed with the pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital and in 1982 earned her degree in public health from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

She drafted legislation for the Organ Transplantation Procurement Act of 1984, while serving with the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources.

In the year 1990, on the 9th of March precisely she began her tenure as the Surgeon General of the United State, appointed by the former President George H. W. Bush.

Antonia became the very first woman and the first Hispanic to hold the position.

She served in her capacity dispatching her duties as she was required.

There is nothing impossible for the determined person who is persistent in doing what is right and at the right time.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the renowned American politician, activist, and longest-serving First Lady of the United States, once said; “We gain strength, courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face … we must do that which we think we cannot.” 

 

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