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Helping others through medicine.

Eduardo Sanchez is truly a multicultural man, with a family heritage firmly rooted in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the U.S.

And now Eduardo, the former Texas State Commissioner of Health Services, is the vice-president / chief medical officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, the largest health insurer in the state and one of the largest in the United States. In his new position, he plays a key role in helping the company fulfill its mission of vastly improving the health and well being of not only its members, but also the diverse, multi-cultural communities and populations across the Lone Star State.

Eduardo is by far a fully accomplished man. Some of his many and varied achievements in public health include having served as director of the Institute for Health Policy in the School of Public Health at The University of Texas Health Science Center and as a member on the Board of the Caring for Children Foundation of Texas. The recipient of numerous honors and awards from health-related organizations including the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians as well as the Texas Health Institute and others have placed Sanchez on an incredible roster of nationally recognized public health advocates and authorities.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Speaking about the root of his interest in medicine, Eduardo says that he was born the son of an Anesthesiologist who took care of patients whether or not they had the means to pay, sometimes accepting bags of oranges as payment for services rendered. Eduardo developed a tremendous amount of admiration for his father and was largely inspired by him, as he was the first in the family to ever graduate from college. While living and working as a teacher in the Dominican Republic after he finished college, young Eduardo found further insight and inspiration from his grandfather, Jose Flaques, who lived there his entire life. "He emulated characteristics we could all live by to make this world a better place in which to live," remembers Sanchez.

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For Eduardo, mentorship is a critical element in the path towards success. "Everyone who touches you in your path through life is an inspiration from very early on," he says. "One is never too mature to learn from anyone of those who have gone in front of you, or even those behind you in age or stature." He also credits David Smith, the head of the Community Health Clinic, founded in 1977 in Brownsville, Texas, as one of his mentors and guides due to his philanthropic and far-sighted visions of improving life in impoverished or struggling communities.

Having spent his life in many United States Cities as well as the Dominican Republic, where much of his family lived, Eduardo grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, and is now living in Dallas with his wife, Katherine and their four children. From an early age, Sanchez knew that health related issues and public service were his calling, and like his father before him, he chose the path of medicine. Still, Eduardo believes that in order to positively impact a community, one does not need to have a fancy education, or a medical one for that matter. "There just may be more effective ways than medical school to impact and put quality into the population in general," he says. To that end, Sanchez is working diligently to ban smoking from all public places in Texas, limiting the presence of this hard-to-break habit to private residences and private buildings, and endeavoring to implement programs and projects that will impact populations by the thousands.

A CALL TO ACTION

Another interest near and dear to Eduardo's heart is the issue of the chronic battle with childhood obesity, which is very prevalent in Texas. Eduardo refers to it as a condition rather than a disease and considers obesity to be a very serious problem threatening today's youth, as over two thirds of the youth population is currently diagnosed as overweight. The Latino population struggles more with this problem than others, and the children of Latino families are fighting Type II Diabetes at a rapidly rising, alarming rate.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is committed to developing and distributing programs to help combat this frightening and often fatal illness among minorities, whom Sanchez refers to as 'Sub-Populations.' This group includes Latinos, African-Americans and American Indian children and young adults throughout the United States. Latinos are at higher risk due to a cluster of conditions. Many of the parents of the children afflicted with Diabetes II are not fluent in English and therefore do not read the warnings issued in magazines and on labels, etc. They grew up on diets rich in foods laden with high-cholesterol, fats and sugar, and they give the same to their children. Most of the families of overweight children are uninsured and have much lower incomes than non-obese families. "Obesity is related to education," cites the doctor. "Those who possess college degrees are less likely to become overweight. Those who do not complete high school are much more likely to fall into that category."

LEVELING THE FIELD

Eduardo is trying to eliminate the differences between minority groups and establish standards for the general population through work with an endeavor known as the Metabolic Syndrome Program. For employers interested in keeping their employees fit and productive, and with the goal of implementing the same in the general population to work to get and stay healthy, the Health Care Service Corp., Inc. began launching an early disease intervention program that puts chronic disease prevention at the head of the employee health management cycle. Through Blue Cross Blue Shield, the HCSC started plans in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Illinois, after having successfully piloted the program in Dallas, Texas with Brinker International, a Dallas-based company. The program began as a screening for Metabolic Syndrome (Met-S), considered to be a major precursor to obesity, which itself is identified as a precursor to heart disease, certain kinds of cancers, hypertension and diabetes. This marked the advent of the first health plan in the United States that took a hard look and targeted Metabolic Syndrome due to its inordinately high correlation to obesity. The condition is estimated to affect one out of every four adults; roughly approximated at 50 million people. It is noted that as little as a 5% to 10% reduction in weight for obese or pre-obese individuals will produce several health benefits, including improved sensitivity to insulin. It can also lower blood pressure and blood lipids, and it has been determined that through the program, weight loss also will reduce back problems and the need for hip and knee replacements.

Another passion shared by Sanchez is the Marathon Kids Program, a free, twelve-year-old, trademarked, school and community based fitness program. It is a four to six month endurance-building running/walking, nutrition and schoolyard gardening project for K-5th graders and their families. Actively organized and running in several major cities across the United States including Dallas, Houston, Chicago, the Navajo Nation and many others and continuing to grow rapidly across the entire world, Marathon Kids affects children who are most vulnerable to obesity and obesity-related diseases due to their sedentary lives and poor diets. The mission of Marathon Kids is to promote good eating habits, physical activity and teaching children about nutrition, physical fitness and psychological well-being for the rest of their lives. An athlete and former track star himself, Sanchez has participated in the program with his children since its inception and feels it is one of the best programs around. He is hoping that someday a program such as Marathon Kids or one similar can be implemented into every school system through the coaches and teachers in the Physical Education departments. He noted that El Paso, Texas has already seen a reduction in their childhood obesity rate by using the program.

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With all the initiatives that Eduardo Sanchez is committed to developing to help Latinos and the contributions that he has already made to it, there is little doubt that he is a hero to our children and a remarkable example of leadership, but for him, his proudest role however, may be as a father and husband.

His Latino heritage gave him the backbone, strength of character and aspiration to succeed and to aid his community through health, medicine and beyond in a world fraught with many challenges but also crowned with wonderful triumphs.

Interviewed at his offices in Dallas, Texas in January, 2009

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Leaders by Steve Gallegos
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Title Annotation:Leaders in Health; Eduardo Sanchez
Author:Wallace, Ann
Publication:Latino Leaders
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2009
Words:1424
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