"You mean to tell me that me, Toni Novello, the little kid from Puerto Rico who has been in the National Institutes of Health all her life has been picked?"
When President George H.W. Bush tapped Dr. Antonia Novello to be Surgeon General, she could hardly believe her ears. She was both the first woman and the first Latin American ever to serve as the nation's number one public health officer.
She had come a long way from the little town of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, where her widowed mother had struggled to raise a child who was sick from birth. Overlooked in the public health system of her native island, Antonia waited 18 years for the operation that allowed her to live a normal life. Undaunted by illness, discomfort or harship, she excelled in school and embarked on the study of medicine, determined to spare other children the neglect she had suffered for so long.
Dr. Novello has specialized throughout her career in the health problems of children and adolescents. It was her work in pediatric AIDS that led to her appointment as Surgeon General from 1990 to 1993. Her service to public health has continued in the years since. As representative of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, as Commissioner of Health for the State of New York, and in her present post at Disney Childrens Hospital in Florida, she has been a tireless campaigner for children's health.