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USC Doctor Honored for Work with Latinos
Dr. Ismael Nuño gets award for his efforts to curb heart disease in the community.
by Katie Hill
Daily Trojan, April 26, 2007

A USC doctor known for his work in the local community received the Louis B. Russell Jr. Memorial Award from the American Heart Association in honor of his efforts to decrease cardiovascular disease in the Los Angeles Latino population.

Ismael Nuno, assistant professor of cardio thoracic surgery at USC Keck School of Medicine, took home the prestigious national honor this past weekend in Washington.

The honor is "a national award for outstanding service to minority and underserved populations," said Claudia Keller, executive director of the American Heart Association of Los Angeles County.

This award is given annually to an individual who is "active in spreading the message about cardiovascular disease in the minority community," Keller said.

More than a quarter of the deaths from cardiovascular disease in the United States are Latinos, and Nuno has spent his career trying to combat that statistic.

As a Latino who spent part of his childhood growing up in Los Angeles, Nuno said his work is dedicated to a group of people with whom he closely identifies.

"I lived in some of the worst parts of town," Nuno said. "Since I was a kid, I made myself a promise that I was going to fight for these people."

After returning to his native Mexico for his medical degree, receiving surgical training at the University of California, San Diego, and serving in the U.S. military, Nuno was able to make his lifelong dream into a reality, he said.

"As a professional, when I developed specific expertise, I made sure that expertise would be addressed to my Latino population," he said.

In 1999, Nuno joined the American Heart Association. He is now president of the Board of Directors for the Western States Affiliate, which includes the states of California, Nevada and Utah.

Since then, Nuno has instituted a number of significant changes that benefit the Latino population, he said.

Nuno organized the first-ever gala, "Corazones Unidos," in 2001, to raise money for cardiovascular care for Latinos, he said.

"Before I arrived it was one common pot. Whatever money was made went to everybody evenly," Nuno said. "There was a huge need for the Latino population."

Nuno said he wanted to ensure that each year, money went into Latino ethnic programs, he said.

In conjunction with the American Heart Association, Nuno also began "massive CPR rallies" for the Latino population where members of the community were taught how to properly perform CPR.

As one of the dominant populations in Los Angeles, the cardiovascular health of Latinos is important, he said.

Keller said Nuno represents what the American Heart Association hopes to achieve: successful change through volunteers.

"We would not exist, if not for the work of volunteers," Keller said.

With an individual of Nuno's "caliber," the American Heart Association's "ability to impact the community is tenfold," she said.

Nuno also has a unique ability to understand the needs of the Latino community, Keller said.

"Since his arrival here, (Nuno's) goal was predicated upon the notion that we have to advocate for minorities and speak to them in their own language, using terms they can understand," she said.

Nuno said he plans to continue to pursue this goal in the future.

"I would like my epitaph to read that Dr. Nuno fixed as many Latino hearts as he could," he said.

Nuno has been a faculty member at USC since 1995 and also serves as chief of service in the division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Los Angeles County Hospital + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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"I lived in some of the worst parts of town. Since I was a kid, I made myself a promise that I was going to fight for these people."

Ismael Nuño, M.D.

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