By Teresa Martínez
The Centennial of Dr. Luis J.Vázquez My father was born in Cuba in 1923 and turns 100 years old on May 14, 2023. His story is an example that through tenacity, perseverance and faith, you can achieve anything . As a child, he didn't like school; he ran away from class and hide so he wouldn't have to go back. He just got bored. One of those days, hiding in his own home, he witnessed the visit of his mother's doctor. Her health improved and Luis decided that he too would be a doctor one day. - "How are you going to be a doctor if you don't like to go to school!" his brothers would ask. - "I don't know, but I'll be a doctor." What he truly enjoyed was reading. Secretly, he studied his older sister's books and they seemed fascinating to him. At the beginning of the fourth grade, he begged his teacher to test him; he already knew the subject and he didn't want to get bored. Luis passed from the third to the sixth grade.
He was a very good student, but he had poor eyesight. He suffered from a rare eye problem and often had to change the strength of his lenses. Many times, his mother had to help him study, reading his books aloud. His parents took him to the best ophthalmologists in the island. Everyone said the same thing, his eyesight wouldn't allow him to study medicine; he had to choose a profession where he didn't have to read as much. "You've heard what the doctors are saying. What are you going to do?" His father asked. - "That's just their opinion. I will be a medical doctor," he reaffirmed. He enrolled at the University of Havana and insisted that his brothers, even the older ones, would enroll as well. While in Havana, an ophthalmologist discovered that his sight problem was, in part, muscular and that he could improve by adding prism to his lenses. On July 30, 1951, he graduated as a Medical Doctor from the University of Havana. He married María Teresa García and together they opened a pediatric practice next to their home. He was recognized as an outstanding diagnostician and families would bring their children to him from all over the island.
I was born in 1954 and my sister Lourdes in 1960, both surrounded by doctors and nurses who admired our father. The grandparents, uncles and cousins also lived on the same block. The family had different businesses and our life was happy and prosperous. Everything changed radically in January 1959 with the triumph of Fidel Castro's communist revolution. From 1960 to 1968, several nationalizing processes were launched that ended with the expropriation of private businesses. In one day, our family lost everything. As if that were not enough, dad began to suffer from heart problems which lead to open heart surgery. Like most professionals, he applied for permission to emigrate to the United States. As a punishment for refusing to work for Castro's government, the family had to wait 8 years to leave Cuba. Meanwhile, Dr. Vázquez saw his patients clandestinely. One of those grateful parents finally helped him get the permission to leave. On April 5, 1970, the family arrived in Miami, we only had what no one could take away from us: faith in God, perseverance and education.
At almost fifty years of age, my parents had to start from scratch. Mom started working in a factory and my father started helping in a clinic. Immediately, he began to study to revalidate his credentials to practice medicine in the United States. He passed all exams, this time in English. With a lot of effort and sacrifice, Dr. Luis J. Vázquez opened the doors to his medical practice at 555 W. Main Street, Bartow, Florida in 1972. He experienced great success for more than two decades, as a pediatrician and family doctor. He never denied treatment to a patient for financial reasons. I remember witnessing him buying medication for those who could not afford it.
Dr. Vazquez also worked proudly for Polk County Government as the Medical Director of ROHR Home, a center for the elderly. He retired twice, the last time he was over 80 years old.
Today, the perpetual doctor confesses that if it were not for his heart condition, lack of hearing and vision, he would would be practicing medicine. One of his most valuable teachings: "You can achieve anything thru faith and hard work!"