Fronteras: Strong Heart Study Of American Indians & Remembering Alfonso Chiscano | Texas Public Radio

Fronteras: Strong Heart Study Of American Indians & Remembering Alfonso Chiscano

Sep 5, 2019

On Fronteras:

  • The Strong Heart Study has tracked the heart health of Native American populations since 1988. (0:00)

  • Family and friends remember Dr. Alfonso Chiscano, MD, a Canary Islands native who championed San Antonio’s culture (11:50).


Shelley Cole
Credit Wendy Rigby, Texas Biomed

Strong Heart Study — Investigating Heart Disease In Native Populations

Health studies have long lacked diversity. Problems that may plague minorities aren’t necessarily reflected in decades-long research projects. Scientific American writes 80-90% of many clinical trials skew white. A study published out of the University of California, San Francisco, reports different ethnicities have specific mutations that affect how certain populations respond to medicine.

More recent studies have focused specifically on the heart health of Latinos and African Americans, but one population tends to get left out of most studies — Native Americans. American Indians have had to struggle through centuries of colonization and oppression. They were banished from the lands that nourished them and are now considered one of the unhealthiest populations on the planet. Indigenous populations have some of the highest rates of Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease among people of various ethnicities.

An outlier in health studies focused on native peoples is the Strong Heart Study of American Indians. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health began the project in 1988.

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio recently received a $3 million grant to continue its work on the Strong Heart Study. The project is one of the largest and longest running epidemiological and genetic studies involving Native Americans in the U.S., involving over 7,600 participants over a span of nearly 31 years.

We talk with Shelley Cole, associate professor and co-lead of the Population Health program at Texas Biomed. Cole chairs the Strong Heart Study Steering Committee and directs the Strong Heart Study Genetics Center.

Three of Alfonso Chiscanos children: (l-to-r) Carina Chiscano-Doyle, Todd Chiscano, and Steve Chiscano. Mari Tamez (in white), Dr. Joaquin Mira (far right)
Credit Norma Martinez / Texas Public Radio

Remembering Alfonso Chiscano, ‘The Picture Perfect Immigrant For This Country’

The Canary Islands are a small chain of Spanish islands, located off the coast of Africa, just west of Morocco.

They may be a blip on a map, but the influence they had on San Antonio’s history and culture is immense. King Felipe V sent 55 Canary Islanders to settle in this part of New Spain in 1731. They founded the original municipality of San Fernando de Béxar, what we now know as San Antonio.

Dr. Alfonso Chiscano, MD, was a native of the Canary Islands. He found his way to San Antonio while furthering his career as a thoracic and cardiac surgeon.

What he gave to the San Antonio community went way beyond extending people’s lives. He made those lives better with his involvement and immersion in San Antonio culture.

Chiscano, known as “Chico” to his friends, died Aug. 27 at age 81.

Today we welcome Steve Chiscano, a San Antonio attorney and one of Alfonso Chiscano’s four children; Mari Tamez, president of the Canary Islands Descendants Association; and Dr. Joaquín Gómez Mira, a native of Madrid, Spain, and a radiation oncologist in San Antonio.

Drs. Joaquín Mira and Alfonso Chiscano waiting to meet King Felipe VI of Spain.
Credit Courtesy of Joaquín Mira.

A funeral mass for Alfonso Chicano is Fri., Sept. 6 at 3 p.m. at San Fernando Cathedral. A public reception follows the mass at Mi Tierra Restaurant in San Antonio’s historic Market Square, 218 Produce Row.

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1.