Dr. Raquel Maria Cruz-Alvarez became a doctor in Cuba at a time when women really were not expected to follow such an unconventional path.
Unconventional, that is, in 1954, the year Cruz-Alvarez graduated from the University of Havana Medical School. That’s where the trailblazer, born in Santa Isabel de las Lajas, began her career as an obstetrician and gynecologist.
“It really was not prevalent for women to enter the medical profession, particularly in a male-dominated society like Cuba, but she established her practice there,” Albert A. del Castillo said about his mom, who died on Friday at her Miami Lakes home at age 83.
Cruz-Alvarez delivered countless babies in Cuba, her son said, but the two were separated for about a year when del Castillo arrived in Miami with an aunt and uncle in 1961. “Medical professionals were not as free to leave,” he said.
Cruz-Alvarez ultimately arrived in Miami in July 1962 “and she hit the ground running and never looked back,” her son said. She did her residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach and earned her license to practice in the United States. “We were lucky legislators in Congress and D.C. made it easier for Cuban-licensed doctors to come in and get recertified here in the States and mom did that.”
The year 1968 was one of the most turbulent years in modern American society. Vietnam raged. Martin Luther King Jr. and Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Kennedy wouldn’t live to see the birth of his 11th child, a daughter, born about six months after he was killed. But in that year, “tens of thousands” of new lives started to enter the world from a private Ob/Gyn practice in Hialeah opened by Cruz-Alvarez.
“The incredible thing about my mom, she was an extraordinary physician, and there wasn’t a restaurant I’d walk into in Miami Lakes, where she lived, where someone wouldn’t come up to her and say, in Spanish, ‘ Doctora, you delivered my son or my niece or my grandchild.’ People absolutely love her. She had a way with her patients,” said del Castillo, 56, a public finance lawyer.
Cruz-Alvarez, who also loved to travel the world with her children and grandchildren, maintained her private practice until 1995 and worked alongside Hialeah, Mercy, Mount Sinai and Cedars of Lebanon hospitals. After closing her practice, she worked as a gynecologist at CAC-Ramsay/Humana until early this year.
“The other side of mom was her passion for my brother and I,” del Castillo said. “One thing she ingrained in us was education. She said, ‘You need to get your education. People can take material things from you but they can’t take away your education’ as she experienced when she left Cuba for here. We continued that tradition with our five kids.”
Cruz-Alvarez, predeceased by husbands Dr. Manuel Alvarez, Thomas Kundle and Dr. Albert A. del Castillo, is survived by her sons, Albert and Robert, eight grandchildren, sister Hilda Gonzalez, brother William Cruz, and seven stepchildren. A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Church, 15801 NW 67th Ave., Miami Lakes. Donations can be made in her name to St. Catherine’s West Rehabilitation Hospital, 8850 NW 122nd St., Hialeah.