By Steve Blanchard
Hispanic Heritage Month is a unique experience for Dr. Lia Perez. The longtime Moffitt Cancer Center hematologist who does bone marrow transplants is a native of Argentina, which she describes as a melting pot of 19th and 20th century immigrants who make it a culturally rich country that focuses on hospitality.
“I read an article that talked about the hospitality found in Argentinians, and it said, ‘Even doctors greet their patients with a warm embrace,’ ” she said. “I found that so uplifting, especially for patients with cancer. All Hispanics share that positive attitude to life. You don’t let problems get to you and you go around them every day. Life is too precious and we celebrate it all the time wherever we come from.”
Staying connected to one’s roots is a common goal of many Hispanics, she said, adding that her heritage and ability to speak English and Spanish have helped her provide better care to her patients.
“I have found that patients are more comfortable when they can hear about their diagnosis and treatment in their native language,” Perez said. “That way things don’t get lost in translation.”
For 16 years, Perez has been doing bone marrow transplants and working as a researcher at Moffitt, making her one of the longest-serving doctors at the cancer center. She says she’s proud of Moffitt’s focus on patients and its research efforts.
“I witnessed Moffitt’s growth and it gave me the opportunity to support my research activities and provide care for a great proportion of patients of Hispanic background,” she said.
Perez is a long way from home. She was a medical student at the University of Buenos Aires and followed her training at Yale University.
“As I got more immersed in medicine, I started to value it more,” she said. “I read a sign that said ‘bone marrow transplant unit’ and through exposure to the day-to-day activity of Yale’s team, I found my true passion.”
She said she chose to focus on hematology and the BMT field because of the science behind it and the care she provides to patients with serious problems in need of sound recommendations.
“I consider myself a positive and cheerful person and I enjoy engaging with people,” she said.
Perez is happy in Tampa and at Moffitt, but she still has family and friends in Argentina. Every few years she travels back to reconnect with those who are still close to her and their shared heritage.