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From left: Clariza Castellanos, vice-minister of culture for the President; Dr. Francis Robicsek; Guatemalan First Lady, Rosa María Leal de Perez; and Patricia Obando, secretary of the social arts for the First Lady)
Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, vice president and chairman emeritus of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Carolinas HealthCare System, has received a peace award from Guatemala’s First Lady honoring his decades of medical and educational contributions to the country of Guatemala.
The award was presented during an annual ceremony, “Exchange of the Peace Rose,” led by the First Lady, Rosa María Leal de Perez, in the Presidential Palace in Guatemala. During the ceremony, Dr. Robicsek replaced the “peace rose” on a war monument that commemorates the end of a 36-year civil war in Guatemala. In the 1980s, Dr. Robicsek was honored in the same palace for with the highest Guatemalan civilian decoration, the Order of the Quetzal.
As vice president of the International Medical Outreach (IMO) Program – a collaboration between Carolinas HealthCare System and the Heineman Foundation of Charlotte – Dr. Robicsek helped build Guatemala’s premier cardiac care institute (Unidad de Cirugía Vascular – UNICAR), which this year turns 45 years old. Today, medical teams at UNICAR perform more than 800 heart operations each year and serves patients across Guatemala and from neighboring Honduras, Belize and Nicaragua.
“Dr. Robicsek’s work in Guatemala began in 1971, when a conversation with then-President Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio led to the agreement that he would help establish open heart surgery in Guatemala,” Leal de Perez said at the ceremony. “A few years later, UNICAR opened on the Roosevelt Hospital Campus. To date UNICAR has performed more than 13,100 heart operations and remains the most trusted, comprehensive heart center in Central America.
The IMO Program’s impact has spread to other cities in Guatemala, where hospitals in areas like Quetzaltenango, Escuintla and Cuilapa now have trained technicians and equipment to deliver basic heart care in echocardiograph (echo) laboratories. Since 2010, Guatemalan echo technicians, trained by IMO, have performed more than 9,150 echocardiographs across the country.
Delivering more than modern medicine, the IMO Program also has been helping children in Guatemalan public schools receive modern education. IMO has partnered with Fundación Sergio Paiz Andrade (FUNSEPA) in Guatemala on the “Technology to Educate” initiative, which aims to donate computers to 19,000 public schools. Since 2010, the IMO Program has donated more than 31,300 pieces of computer equipment.