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Overcoming Obstacles

Eddy Cruz: Survivor, Scholar and Future Surgeon

When South Bronx native Eddy Cruz walked into the offices of the Einstein Enrichment Program (EEP), Deborah Negron-Cordero sensed right away that the then-Cardinal Hayes sophomore with a love of science was destined for great things.

"I really see something in you," said the EEP counselor, welcoming Mr. Cruz into a program designed to teach minority and/or economically disadvantaged high school students about the healthcare industry. "One day, you’ll realize it, too."

Eddy Cruz Working
Eddy Cruz, New York Times Scholar
Those words now seem prophetic, as the now-high school senior recently shared some wonderful news—he was one of eight high school students selected as a New York Times Scholar. The scholarship, which includes $7,500 annually during college, will offer Mr. Cruz much-needed support in realizing his dream of becoming a doctor.

"Deborah always believed in me," said Mr. Cruz. "When I told her I had won, she almost cried. It was such a beautiful moment. It meant so much to both of us that I had made it so far."

Success did not come easily to Mr. Cruz. The budding scholar, who will be attending Cornell University this fall, had many obstacles to overcome, from struggling with finances to coping with his father’s drug addiction. Yet he always persevered with one goal in mind. "I have always found science interesting," he said. "How the body works fascinated me and I want to explore this further."

Harnessing Opportunities

Through Student Sponsor Partners, a nonprofit organization that gives at-risk students the opportunity to receive a private high school education, Mr. Cruz was offered a place at Cardinal Hayes where he felt an immediate desire to succeed.

"Cardinal Hayes really provided me with motivation to be a better student," he said, discussing his rise from mainstream classes to honors and advanced placement courses.

"I always felt that they wanted me to do well there," he continued. "They saw potential in me and wanted me to realize it." Recognizing his fondness for science, Mr. Cruz was encouraged to sign up for the EEP where he could witness the day-to-day activities of physicians. The EEP participates with the New York state-funded Science & Technology Entry Program to advance those who, historically, have been underrepresented in medicine and science. To qualify, students must demonstrate high academic performance, good attendance, and an interest in pursuing careers in health, medicine and/or science.

Mr. Cruz jumped at the opportunity, impressing all who interviewed him.

"There was a spark about him," recalled Ms. Negron-Cordero. "He was motivated and he had the desire to succeed. I had no doubt he would be a superstar."

Mr. Cruz soaked up information from physicians who met with the students to discuss their backgrounds and their profession. While he has excelled at writing research papers and as a leader who mentored younger enrollees of the EEP, it was a visit to Jacobi Medical Center that truly excited him.

Experience Inspires Aspirations

Melvin Stone
Melvin Stone, M.D., an influential mentor to Mr. Cruz
"We were taken to the trauma department, where Dr. Melvin Stone showed us an open heart surgery that was underway," said. Mr. Cruz. "He explained to us what he did during the surgery and how the patient survived, and I thought, ‘You saved this guy’s life.’ That’s what I want to do.’" Following his passions, Mr. Cruz sought a summer internship with Dr. Stone, where he was able to shadow the surgeon. In doing so, he experienced firsthand the difference he could make when he encountered a cancer patient about to have part of his colon removed.

Speaking only broken English, the patient was relieved to be able to communicate with Mr. Cruz in Spanish. The two bonded over their common Dominican descent.

"He felt better because I was going to be in the room," Mr. Cruz recalled. "I was able to relate to him and it helped put his mind at ease. I talked with his family and they thanked me. It definitely was a great feeling."

Facing and Overcoming Adversity

While Mr. Cruz enjoys sharing stories of these experiences, others – about difficulties he has faced – are not so easy. But it was opening up about his home life that contributed to his selection as a New York Times Scholar.

"Growing up, my mom was always supportive encouraging my interests," he said. "But discovering my dad’s drug addiction and dealing with the issues connected to that presented obstacles I had to overcome."

Unconsciously applying his love of science to his real-life situation, Mr. Cruz created a study-sleep schedule that worked around the times his father ‘s drug problem would typically cause disruptive outbursts. Doing so allowed the young Mr. Cruz to focus on his own goals, particularly excelling at science.

"It was tough getting used to," he explained. "I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t let his actions affect my future."

Mr. Cruz’s inspirational tale of triumphing over such adversity was the subject of his initial entry into the New York Times’ scholarship contest. Subsequent papers about gun violence and his use of Twitter during the Presidential election solidified his selection to receive one of the newspaper’s college scholarships, which will support his plans to major in communications on a pre-med track.

This summer, Mr. Cruz, will participate in an internship at the newspaper. He then plans to immediately immerse himself in his studies at Cornell.

His goals include using communications to address health disparities while also continuing his dream of becoming a surgeon; a dream he hopes will take him back to Einstein – both the medical school and the EEP.

"All these doctors came back to inspire us and I want to do that for someone else," he said. "I want to give back to the patients here, too. I hope to save a lot of people’s lives."

Those who know Eddy Cruz well know that he’s capable of accomplishing those goals. "Many students who have come through the EEP make an impact on our society and our communities," said Ms. Negron-Cordero. "Eddy is going to be one of those students. I am sure I will run into Dr. Cruz one day."

Posted on: Friday, April 19, 2013