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Dr. Antonia Novello

A childhood spent combating a congenital disease left Antonia Novello determined to become a doctor and help children and families who, like hers, could not afford the medical care they needed. Eventually, that path would lead her to join the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. As a congressional fellow, Novello — born Antonia Coello in Fajardo, Puerto Rico — helped draft federal legislation to establish the national registry for organ matching, as well as the health warnings added to cigarette packages. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush appointed her the United States’ 14th surgeon general, the nation’s top health official, making her the first woman and the first Hispanic to hold that position. During her tenure, from 1990 to 1993, Novello continued to focus on the health of women, children and minorities, launching initiatives to combat underage drinking and smoking as well as domestic violence, and to prevent the neonatal transmission of AIDS. In 2014, Novello retired from her position at the Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando, but she remains active, most recently meeting with all living former U.S. Surgeon Generals at the White House in 2021 to discuss expanding COVID-19 vaccine access and information to communities of color.

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