American Society of Hematology

Chair's Corner

Belinda R. Avalos, MD Chair, Committee on Promoting Diversity

¡Este mes celebramos el Mes de la Herencia Hispana! This month, starting September 15 and continuing through October 15, we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month, in celebration of the rich histories, cultures, and many contributions of American citizens whose ancestors hail from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. In this month’s Chair’s Corner, we pay homage to an outstanding Hispanic hematologist, Dr. Bertha Bouroncle, for her important contributions to our current understanding of hairy cell leukemia (HCL).

Dr. Bouroncle, a Peruvian hematologist with whom I worked as a third-year medical student at The Ohio State University, proved to be the most influential person in my decision to pursue a career in hematology. Her long and illustrious career at Ohio State, which extended from 1954 to 2001, was highlighted by the discovery of HCL. In a landmark article published in 1958 in Blood (Bouroncle BA, Wiseman BK, Doan CA. Leukemic reticuloendotheliosis. Blood. 1958;13:609-630), she described for the first time this rare form of chronic leukemia (initially called leukemic reticuloendotheliosis) that is characterized by hair-like projections from the malignant cells. Aside from this "first," Bertha also set the record for being the first female chief resident at Ohio State and the first female full professor in internal medicine at Ohio State. She passed away in 2013 at 93 years of age.

Bertha exhibited many of the same strong characteristics as my own father, a physician from Mexico who moved my family to the United States, then unexpectedly passed away when I was only 16. Bertha was passionate about her patients. She was the consummate teacher and a brilliant clinician. She taught me the art and skill of morphologic examination and interpretation of peripheral blood smears and bone marrow aspirations. From these experiences, I came to recognize for the first time the importance of bench-to-bedside observations, which ultimately propelled me to pursue research studies on hematopoiesis.

Bertha was a true "giant" in hematology, having mentored and trained more than 100 hematologists. Her original article on HCL was selected for the 2016 Blood Flashback series, commemorating notable accomplishments in hematology in the past 70 years. It is only fitting that we honor her during National Hispanic Heritage Month. We are also pleased to share interviews with the 2017 ASH-AMFDP Award recipients, Justin Taylor, MD, and Roger Belizaire, MD, PhD, and to provide an update on 2014 ASH-AMFDP Award recipient Esther Obeng, MD, PhD.

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