Celebrating Hispanic History Month - A Profile on Omaida Caridad Velázquez, MD
Omaida C. Velázquez, MD, FACS, is a nationally and internationally renowned surgeon-scientist, Board Certified in General and Vascular Surgery, Distinguished Fellow of the Society for Vascular Surgery, serving as an officer for the Southern Surgical Association (SSA) and as an active contributing member of the American Surgical Association (ASA), Society of University Surgeons (SUS) and the American College of Surgeons (ACS). Dr. Velazquez's research focuses on stem cells, angiogenesis, wound healing, atherosclerosis, critical limb ischemia (CLI) and limb preservation concerning peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and vascular complications of diabetes.
Omaida C. Velázquez’s, MD, beginnings were first and foremost, as a young visionary who escaped from communist Cuba and was idealistically passionate about medicine. She migrated to the United States in 1980 at age 13 and navigated public high school in Union City, New Jersey. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree with Scientific Thesis from the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1987 and her doctorate from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School in 1991, selected to deliver the Valedictorian speech to her class. That same year, she was granted numerous awards and recognitions that highlighted both her broad academic achievements and her fearless dedication to helping her communities. Her passion for making a positive difference carries out unwavering throughout her decades of service in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and subsequently in Miami. At the 20th annual Hispanic Women of Distinction Charity Awards, in September 2021, Velazquez was honored as Latina Pioneer of the Year by her South Florida community; she was the only medical doctor honored at that event that brought together fourteen prominent Latina leaders broadly representing several professional fields.
“Medicine was my life goal, and within medicine, I always wanted to treat patients clinically but also hopefully add to the roster of treatments for the future; that’s why I went into academic surgery and became an academic vascular surgeon who focused on this line of research and investigations that target unmet needs; I dream of one day where no one would ever need to fear amputation of their limb, or suffer with painful, non-healing wounds and sores,” said Velázquez.
Velázquez is the David Kimmelman Endowed chair in vascular and endovascular Surgery, Tenured Professor of the Department of Surgery, with additional appointments in the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and of Radiology. She is the immediate past chairperson for the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami. Until January 2023, Velázquez served for seven years in the position of Chair of Surgery and surgeon-in-chief (SIC) of the University of Miami Health System and Jackson Memorial Hospital Health System in Miami, Florida. In 2015, Velazquez made history as the first Latina to head a major academic surgery department in the United States. Throughout her tenure as chair and SIC the national reputation of Surgery for her institution soared and despite enduring the years of pandemic, the missions of surgical clinical service, education, and research thrived with excellence, professionalism, and advocacy under her strong leadership.
Her contributions were recognized within the at-large field of academic medicine, as seen by her induction into the American Society for Clinical Investigators (ASCI) in 2009 and recent induction to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Her groundbreaking science has been continuously funded for decades by the National Institute of Health and supported by foundations and philanthropy. Her colleagues and patients across Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and around the country cherish her as a kind and skillful surgeon, caring doctor, consummate professional and a brilliant mind ushering hope for new vascular cures.
Her recent studies involve vascular regeneration on gene-modified cell technologies to help heal ischemic tissue wounds. Her discoveries on the membrane-bound adhesion molecule, E-selectin, were identified as an effective factor in inducing pro-angiogenesis and promoting healing, a field previously dominated by less effective soluble target factors, opening a brand-new avenue of vascular regenerative medicine. Her work has led to the creation of a new platform technology to reverse tissue damage caused by arterial occlusion or diabetes. That technology is patented by the University of Miami and Licensed for further study and development to Ambulero, inc., for which she serves as a consultant and minority shareholder.
“Part of leadership as a scientist and academic doctor is knowing that if the science only gets to a published paper and never gets further developed, no patient will ever benefit from that work,” said Velázquez.
She emphasizes that discovery can only lead to cures when we continue focused on the demanding yet essential job of ongoing extensive testing and monitored clinical development.
Velázquez celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month to honor her culture. For her, the celebration is about family bonding, sharing food and music. It's also an occasion to preserve traditions, illuminate areas of opportunity, and promote positive change in her community. By raising awareness of vascular illnesses and needed future cures, she hopes to pay homage to the culture she loves, the beautiful community she belongs to and to contribute to a better future for all.
“Medical awareness is critically important for the health of our communities because, unfortunately, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases and their complications (such as leg amputations) are much more common in the Hispanic communities and in Latinx individuals than in the general population,” said Velázquez. “I hope Hispanic Heritage Month does for our community what other months do, such as Breast Cancer Awareness and Heart Health Awareness months. It should raise the level of medical savviness on specific unmet needs to Hispanics/Latinx individuals, launch self-help and advocacy educational programs, and over time be an instrument for empowering our Hispanics, Latinos, and Latinas working to improve people’s health and uplift our communities.”
Velázquez wants Society for Vascular Surgery members to contribute to discussions, propose solutions and advocate for funding to address these unresolved issues. Velázquez is proud of the SVS Foundation for actively promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, as she believes that every professional society in the country and around the world should have a fundraising arm to address the unmet needs that often disproportionately affect underrepresented minorities.
She understands that progress takes time and acknowledges that there are still unresolved challenges regarding the representation of Latinx and Hispanic communities in the medical field leadership, but she aspires to inspire others by demonstrating that dreams can be realized even in the face of adversity.
“There’s a tremendous challenge that comes with the intersectionality of being a woman and being a member of an underrepresented minority group that synergistically amplifies unjustified disparities no matter the individual’s track record of undisputable achievement and contributions. Today’s young people and seasoned leaders need to know that these problems are pervasive and have not been solved by simply putting the laws on the books. There is an ongoing need to be strong and not pass on such injustices to future generations of talented and passionate young women, but instead to do something about it, and fix it,” said Velázquez.
When you donate to the SVS Foundation, you support Voices of Vascular's important work in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Learn more and make your gift today.