The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

South Texas Environmental Education and Research UTRGV School of Medicine

Presenters

Harlingen Course Faculty

Thomas DeMaar, DVM

Thomas DeMaar, DVM
VETERINARIAN

Thomas DeMaar, D.V.M., is the Senior Veterinarian at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, which is considered one of the ten best zoos in the United States. Dr. DeMaar’s experience includes wildlife and zoological medicine, human-animal interfaces, international agriculture development, environmental research, wildlife rehabilitation, mixed animal practice, and conservation education in the US, Mexico, Uganda, Pakistan and Kenya. From 1988 to 1990, Dr. DeMaar was in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico as Technical Director of a Rotary International-sponsored dairy development project. From 1995 to 2003, he created and managed an ecosystem conservation veterinary practice in Kenya. Dr. DeMaar is a graduate of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts and holds a faculty position there as a clinical assistant professor in the department of environmental and population health. Dr. DeMaar is a firm believer in “One World, One Medicine” medical practice.

Stanley I. Fisch, MD

Stanley I. Fisch, MD
Clinical Professor

Stanley I. Fisch, M.D., is a clinical professor in the UTHSCSA Department of Pediatrics and Director for Pediatric Programs at the Regional Academic Health Center. He graduated from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York and completed his residency in pediatrics and social medicine at Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center, Bronx, New York. From 1973 until 1982, he served on the staff of Su Clinica Familiar, a migrant and community health center serving residents of Cameron and Willacy counties in South Texas. Dr. Fisch is founder, partner, and CEO of Harlingen Pediatrics Associates, a private group practice of six board-certified general pediatricians, two nurse practitioners, and one social worker. He is the founder and presiding officer of the LRGV Child Fatality Review Team, chair of the Texas Medical Association’s Council on Medical Education, and member of the Valley Baptist Health Plans Board of Directors. Recently he has worked with a multidisciplinary group to create the Child to Adult Abuse Response Team (CAART) at Valley Baptist Medical Center. Dr. Fisch serves as the team’s medical director.

In 2006, Dr. Fisch received the Job Lewis Smith Award for Leadership in Community Pediatrics from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Susan P. Fisher-Hoch, MSC, MD, MRCPATH

Susan P. Fisher-Hoch, MSC, MD, MRCPATH
Professor of Epidemiology

Susan P. Fisher-Hoch, M.Sc., M.D., MRCPath, is a professor of biological sciences and epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Brownsville Regional Campus. She has considerable expertise and extensive experience in infectious disease research, including significant contributions to knowledge regarding infectious agents such as Ebola and Lassa fever. In the mid-1980s, she moved from the United Kingdom to the CDC in Atlanta, where she stayed for eight years, first in the Special Pathogens Laboratory. Her responsibilities included primate studies of pathophysiology, vaccine evaluation, clinical and epidemiological advice for the United States and other countries, and supervision of the Sierra Leone Lassa Fever Research Unit. She was a member of the team responsible for opening and operating the newest biosafety level 4 (BSL4 – the highest level of containment, used for the most dangerous viruses such as Ebola and Lassa) laboratory at CDC. In 1993, she became Research Professor and supervisor of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Aga Khan University in Pakistan. In 1997, Dr. Fisher-Hoch took charge of the design, construction, and scientific program of a new BSL4 laboratory in Lyon, France, which is today the world’s most technologically advanced laboratory for handling dangerous viruses.

In January 2001, she moved to Brownsville, Texas, to join her husband who was appointed Assistant Dean for the new Brownsville campus of the UT School of Public Health. She is a full professor in the new school, taking particular responsibility for establishing the new laboratory, teaching and setting up studies of diseases important in the border communities. Her research program includes the Hispanic Health Research Center, a study of the genetics of Human Papilloma Virus in Hispanic women in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Mexico, and a study of emerging MDR tuberculosis across the US/Mexico border.

Joseph B. McCormick, MD

Joseph B. McCormick, MD
University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center

Joseph B. McCormick is regional dean and James H. Steele Professor of Epidemiology of the Brownsville Regional Campus of the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center School of Public Health. In 1977, he founded the CDC Lassa fever Research Project in Sierra Leone. There, he conducted extensive and definitive studies of the epidemiology and treatment of Lassa hemorrhagic fever, publishing a landmark publication in the New England Journal of Medicine on effective antiviral treatment for this disease.

He returned to Atlanta in 1979 and became Chief, Special Pathogens Branch, Division of Viral Diseases at the CDC, directing the Biosafety level 4 laboratories for 9 years. He subsequently led the original team that did the first AIDS investigation in Africa and established the Project SIDA in Kinshasa, Zaire, and later the Project Retro-Ci in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. In 1993, he became Chairman, Community Health Sciences Department, at the Aga Khan University Medical School (AKU) where he established an epidemiology program resembling the CDC Field Epidemiology Training Programs, and a Masters' degree in Epidemiology. In 1997 he moved to France where he founded epidemiology programs for the Institute Pasteur and for Aventis Pasteur. He returned to the US in 2001 to start a new regional campus of the UT-Houston School of Public Health in Brownsville.

His awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, and humanitarian awards from Florida Southern College and Duke University Medical School.

Belinda Reininger, DRPH

Belinda Reininger, DRPH
Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences / University of Texas -School of Public Health / Regional Campus at Brownsville, Texas

Dr. Belinda Reininger is an assistant professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science for the University of Texas, School of Public Health Regional Campus at Brownsville.  Dr. Reininger’s research has focused on ecological approaches to improving health with minority populations, including a special emphasis on capacity building efforts. Dr. Reininger has extensive experience conducting both qualitative and quantitative research, in particular conducting and analyzing interviews, focus groups and written surveys.  Dr. Reininger has served as principal investigator for several projects focused on the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities.  One such project examined community-based evaluation strategies for health disparities projects and another focused on community engagement strategies around diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. She has also served as principal investigator of a CDC-funded initiative to examine factors influencing the success of community-based initiatives to address teen pregnancy.  

Adela S. Valdez, MD

Adela S. Valdez, MD
Cultural Sensitivity

Dr. Adela S. Valdez was born and raised in Harlingen, Texas. She received her MD degree from Baylor College of Medicine and finished her residency in the UTHSCSA-McAllen Family Practice Program. She is currently Regional Assistant Dean at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), a regional campus of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Harlingen, Texas. Dr. Valdez was previously the Director of the Area Health Education Center (AHEC), a state indigent hospital administrator and Medical Director. Dr. Valdez helped initiate the VBMC Family Practice Program and was their first Interim Medical Director from 1995-1996. She also assisted in the establishment of the academic infrastructure in her role as VBMC RAHC Coordinator. In 2000 she completed a one year NYU/NHMA fellowship in Health Disparities with emphasis in cultural competence. From 2001-2005 she was Presiding Officer of the governor appointment State Health Disparities Task Force. In 2004 Dr. Valdez was named the state’s representative to the Agency for Health Research and Quality national conference which focused on best practices and review of the National Health Disparities Report. She has lectured at state health disparities conferences on health disparities, and presented in academic medical centers on Folk Medicine and Mexican American belief systems. She serves on various committees and advisory boards. She has been honored by the Hispanic magazine VISTA, the Texas Board of Health, and the Association of University Women.

Mario Gil

Mario Gil
Assistant Professor

Dr. Mario Gil is an Assistant Professor in the UTRGV Department of Psychological Science, with a joint appointment in the UTRGV School of Medicine Department of Biomedical Sciences, Division of Neurosciences. Dr. Gil holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Florida State University, an M.A. in Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience from the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, and a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Texas at Brownsville. As a guest lecturer for the STEER Program, he focuses on the role of the endocrine system in brain development and human health.

Dr. Gil conducts basic neuroscience research in the School of Medicine Neuroscience lab in Brownsville. The primary goals of Dr. Gil’s research program are to investigate the interaction between social and environmental experience and stimulus-induced gene expression and protein in the brain of rodents; to develop behavioral assays that may serve as models of neuropsychiatric disorders; and to explore the genetic and physiological factors that underlie individual differences in behavior and disease susceptibility.

In addition to his experience in basic neuroscience research, Dr. Gil received postdoctoral training in clinical and translational research at the Regional Academic Health Center-Clinical Research Unit, which was a part of the NIH CTSA-funded Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. One of Dr. Gil’s major long-term goals is applying discoveries made in his laboratory to the development of treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders and other health issues.

Leonel Vela, M.D.,M.P.H.

Leonel Vela, M.D.,M.P.H.
Senior Associate Dean for Education and Academic Affairs

Dr. Leonel Vela, a Pharr, Texas native, is the Senior Associate Dean for Education and Academic Affairs, Professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine and Chair of the Department of Medical Education for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, School of Medicine. Dr. Vela was the founding Dean of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), a campus of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).  For 15 years he directed the medical education and biomedical research components of the RAHC.  As its first Regional Dean, he supervised the development and establishment of the RAHC campuses during their formative years.  He has held an academic appointment of Professor with Tenure in the UTHSCSA Department of Family and Community Medicine.

Dr. Vela received his undergraduate degree in Medical Microbiology from Stanford University and his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine.  He completed post-graduate studies at Harvard University where he received a Masters of Public Health Degree.   Dr. Vela completed post-graduate training in Preventive Medicine. While at the Harvard he was the recipient of a Kellogg Fellowship in Health Policy and Management. Dr. Vela received additional training in epidemiology at the CDC in Atlanta, and a fellowship in Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He is board-certified in Preventive Medicine and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

Dr. Vela has been in academic medicine for the past 19 years, including serving as Vice President for Rural and Community Health at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC).  At TTUHSC, Dr. Vela was the first holder of the Marie Hall Endowed Chair in Rural and Community Health. Additionally, Dr. Vela was the Medical Director for Telemedicine and Editor of the Texas Journal of Rural Health. 

Dr. Vela has served on several state, national and international committees addressing tuberculosis, diabetes, migrant health, border health and telemedicine.  He has been involved in publications and professional presentations addressing these topics, including public health and emerging infections on the border.  He has participated in several professional organizations and previously chaired the National Advisory Council on Migrant Health for the U.S. Secretary of Health. He also chaired the Group on Regional Medical Campuses for the Association of American Medical Colleges.  Dr. Vela has received various awards and was honored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Migrant Head Start Branch, as recipient of the Plate of Bounty Award. 

Michelle Zeager DO, MPH, FAAP

Michelle Zeager DO, MPH, FAAP
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine / Director of Pediatric Environmental Health at the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Dr. Zeager completed a general pediatric residency at Penn State University Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in 1998 and practiced general pediatrics in Harrisburg, PA until 2006.  She received an MPH in Environmental Public Health at the University of South Florida, College of Public Health in 2008 and completed a Pediatric Environmental Health Fellowship at the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2011.  During her fellowship, Dr. Zeager worked at the Region 1 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), attended the outpatient pediatrics clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital and was a Clinical Instructor at Harvard School of Medicine.  In 2011 Dr. Zeager relocated to south Texas and joined Harlingen Pediatrics Associates as well as University of Texas Health Sciences Center San Antonio as clinical faculty in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. Since 2008, Dr. Zeager has been an instructor for the South Texas Environmental Education and Research Program (STEER), teaching students about environmental issues that impact children’s health. In 2016, Dr. Zeager joined the faculty of UTRGV School of Medicine. 

Dr. Zeager is a Rio Grande Valley Regional Medical Consultant for the Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health, Region 6 PEHSU at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, El Paso.

Dr. Zeager is board certified in General Pediatrics and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sister Phylis Peters

Sister Phylis Peters
Director of Proyecto Juan Diego at Cameron Park Brownsville, TX.

Sister Phylis Peters has a Masters in Nursing: Loyola University, Chicago, Ill. Her responsibilities are to develop Proyecto Juan Diego to meet the needs of the poor in the colonia and provide services that will make them more independent.  Do this in a financially feasible and participative way. Responsible to the Board of Trustees. Coordinate Health care activities within the colonia and with the various universities and medical schools. Initiate surveys within the colonia and initiate programs to assist in solving some of the problems as discovered. Do fund raising and educational programs for the women and children in defined colonias. Integrate services within the local community and with other agencies with our project so that no duplication will occur.

Working with 1115 group in the Valley for decreasing admissions to the ER and hospital in order to cut costs. Board Member of San Vicente Clinic in El Paso and on Farmers Market in Brownsville, TX. She is a member of Equal Voice in the Valley; a member of the Advisory Board of UTSPH for community outreach. Working with Methodist Ministries on their Collective Impact.

Sister Phylis work objective is to assist people to find their inner treasures, skills and talents so they can more effectively work together as a team and thus improve their family and community environment to be healthier and safer places to grow and work.