Angelica Garcia addresses the Class of 2015 as Jennifer Kerr, Idalia Rodriguez, and Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo listen.
Angelica Garcia addresses the Class of 2015 as Jennifer Kerr, Idalia Rodriguez, and Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo listen.

The 233 members of the Class of 2015 shared the commencement stage and spotlight with three special guest speakers May 29 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

UTHealth President and Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo was the featured commencement speaker, but he tapped three of his former patients to give addresses focusing on the patient care aspects of medicine.

Angelica Garcia, Jennifer Kerr, and Idalia Rodriguez each took to the podium and each received a standing ovation following their personal stories that triumphed the difference thoughtful and caring doctors had made in their lives.

“I considered many topics to share with the graduates, but it struck me that the DNA of medicine for our graduates is the relationship with people – especially patients,” Dean Colasurdo explained.

Garcia told how she was considered a miracle to physicians. Born with Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS), she spent the first 11 months of her life at Children’s Memorial Hermann. She was confined to a wheelchair and was not able to eat any food by mouth until age 5.

“That was when I didn’t have to carry the ventilator around anymore and when I got a speech valve and first began talking,” she explained. “I haven’t stopped since.”

Garcia now describes herself as any other teenager who attends high school, plays on her tablet, and even dances with the Wii.

Kerr, who was born with esophageal atresia, spoke about her journey, which started at the hospital when she was 8 years old – dropped off by her birth parents who never returned for her.

“I weighed 20 pounds, had very little hair, was severely malnourished, had pneumonia and could hardly breathe and my G-tube had been pulled out.  At that point, the doctors and nurses weren’t sure that I would survive,” she recalled.

She described how her life was turned around when she met her third-grade teacher.

“If any of you are familiar with the book, or movie and now Broadway show Matilda, you are now looking at a real life Matilda named Jennifer,” she explained. “My 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Kerr, just like Miss Honey, in the book became my mom and was able to bring me home on the last day of school.  I now was Jennifer Kerr, and I had a mom, dad, and two brothers, and a real home.”

Rodriguez, who has SMA type II, shared how throughout her medical history she has been scared and relied upon the expertise and reassurances of the physicians around her.

“Having so much experience with doctors, I really remember and admire the ones who would not only ask me about my health, but also inquire about me,” she said. “At times it could be inconceivable that small things can make a difference, but trust me they do.”

She urged the Class of 2015 to understand the genes of neuromuscular diseases and cure them.

“Please take time to sit down with your fragile patients instead of standing,” she said. “Reassure us, look into our eyes, and address our fears.”

All three of the guest speakers spoke specifically to how doctors had made a difference in their lives.

“My UT doctors treat every one of their patients as though they are special and important. They are kind, caring, and compassionate, toward all of their patients and their families. They always have, and always will, hold a special place in my heart,” Kerr said.

In addition to the three speakers, Colasurdo also made a special presentation to Pat Caver, director of the Office of Student Affairs, who is retiring after 40 years of service to McGovern Medical School, and introduced the new dean for the school, Dr. Barbara Stoll, who will start Oct. 1.

-Darla Brown, Office of Communications, Medical School