Maria Isabel Herran, M.D., has devoted herself to international health, refugee children, and the development and regulation of international adoption. Like much of the work needed to protect vulnerable populations in the developing world, needs far exceed the funding available. Dr. Herran also volunteered full-time to work with non-profit agencies, motivated by her own experiences as a refugee and inspired by the efforts of her mentors to help children around the world.
Born in Cuba and raised in the United States from age 8, Maria Herran observed early on that the wealth and comfort of her family changed drastically once they became refugees in the United States. "I realized at that age that money, social status, and material wealth were transient, but education was long-lasting....[If I could obtain an education,] nobody could take that away from me."
As a child she was discouraged by a family friend and doctor from becoming a physician "He used to tell me," she remembered, "that medicine was not a career for women." She pursued her goal, however, graduating with a bachelor of science degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Puerto Rico in 1974 and earning a doctor of medicine degree from the university's School of Medicine in 1977.
She moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1983, although she spent some time in Puerto Rico working part time while raising her small children. In 1989 she returned to Cleveland to work in pediatrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital. As Dr. Herran raised her children over the next few years, she worked part time at various hospitals. In the spring of 1999, she became a full-time volunteer for the Rainbow Center for International Child Health at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland, the only American hospital devoted to international child health. The Rainbow Center is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization founded in 1987 to extend medical care to children throughout the world, especially those living in countries in the developing world, to extend expertise of child health colleagues, and to train students and residents to provide care at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital.
Working toward her areas of special interest, Dr. Herran has taken on many roles, including clinical instructor in pediatrics, a coordinator of the International Pediatric Chat Line for Case Western Reserve University, coordinator of Latin American Programs for the Rainbow Center, and attending pediatrician for the International Adoption Clinic at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the National Hispanic Medical Association.
In 1999, soon after she began volunteering with the Rainbow Center, Dr. Herran worked for a month as a pediatrician in Kosovo, caring for the children affected by the consequences of war. Conditions in the war-ravaged city were overwhelming: "How could I diagnose strep throat without a [lab] test and, even worse, without any test at all? How could I diagnose hundreds of cases of Hepatitis A, just with dipsticks? In order to accomplish something, I had to learn from my colleagues...the patients, the nurses, even the custodian who taught me some words in Albanian...I had to become a better physician; I had to be a better human being." In July 2002 she also traveled to El Salvador, to help victims of Dengue fever.
Dr. Herran has also helped bring information to different groups by translating into Spanish Helping the Children: A Practical Handbook for Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, published by Health Frontiers, a small all-volunteer nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to seek out "opportunities for child development and international health that would be lost without a volunteer effort." The manual is distributed through the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the International Pediatric Association. One of Health Frontiers' founding members and its medical director is Karen Olness, M.D., a professor of pediatrics, family medicine, and international health at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and an influential mentor in the life and career of Dr. Herran.
Dr. Herran is married to Roberto Novoa, M.D., and they have three children. She gives much of her time voluntarily to improve the health and recovery of vulnerable children worldwide, and as her mentor, Dr. Olness, has testified, "No task is too mundane."