Remembering Ricardo Perez Dulzaides
Einstein is deeply saddened by the unexpected illness and death of our M.D./ Ph.D. student Ricardo Perez Dulzaides. Ricardo died of complications following a pulmonary embolism and cardiac arrest. He was just 33 years old.
Few people in Einstein’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) have followed a path similar to Ricardo. Through adversity, Ricardo developed the resilience and resourcefulness to build many opportunities for himself—always seeking to improve his life and that of his family.
Born in Cuba, at age 9 he immigrated to the United States with his parents and younger brother. A close-knit family, they settled in Miami.
Initially they lived in a garage until they had accumulated sufficient money to move to a house. Ricardo’s maternal grandparents followed them to Miami a few years later and lived with Ricardo’s family.
Ricardo had an entrepreneurial spirit and a strong determination to succeed. In high school, he expanded a landscaping business that he started with the help of his father and worked in the local supermarket to help support his family.
After high school, he entered Miami Dade Community College. However, Ricardo was forced to prioritize work to help support his family when his mother lost her job during the 2008 financial crisis. After a year at Miami Dade, he took a leave of absence, sold the landscaping business, and started working as a long-haul truck driver.
Eventually he became an owner-operator, responsible for finding and negotiating loads on a route from Miami to California to New York and back to Miami. It was this experience that kindled Ricardo’s interest in health and medicine. As he noted in his MSTP application:
“Being on the road constantly created poor eating and sleeping habits that were psychologically and physically taxing. Most of my coworkers were unhealthy: being morbidly obese, sitting for long periods as they drove cross country, and feeling unhappy with their lives. In truck stop magazines and online searches, I often found articles that confirmed that the risk of chronic illness increases for drivers. Seeing these conditions first hand, I felt bad for my fellow drivers, and this kept nagging at me: something needed to be done. I became interested in a career in health care because of a desire to help my fellow truck drivers deal, to serve them by translating knowledge to improve their health.”
Focused on Helping Others
After three years as a truck driver, Ricardo was able to return to school full-time. He completed an associate of arts degree at Miami Dade Community College and then entered Florida International University (FIU) where he double majored in chemistry and biology, and graduated summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
At FIU, Ricardo sought out opportunities to expand his horizons. He was introduced to scientific research through the NIH-supported MARC U*STAR program. His Honors thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Laura Serbus earned him co-authorship on a paper. Following graduation, Ricardo joined the Doctorate Development Program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. He worked in the laboratory of Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of molecular microbiology & immunology, and former chair of microbiology & immunology at Einstein.
Ricardo’s research project flourished and he published a first-author paper demonstrating that certain cell-wall dyes inhibited melanin deposition in the Cryptococcus neoformans cell wall. The melanin particles were released as extracellular vesicles allowing detailed study of their composition.
Promising Future Physician-Scientist
In June 2018, Ricardo entered the Einstein MSTP. In preclinical course work, he discovered his passion for clinical investigation because he wanted the outcome of his work to connect directly to improving people’s lives. He chose to do his Ph.D. thesis research with Drs. Qibin Qi and Robert Kaplan in the Ph.D. in Clinical Investigation track.
Ricardo devised a clever way to study whether meal timing might influence health by altering the composition of the human gut microbiome. He reanalyzed detailed food intake data from over 16,000 community volunteers in the NIH Study of Latinos cohort. By dissecting eating patterns reported by study participants, he sought to understand how dietary habits might influence one's risk of metabolic disease.
He made rapid progress over just a few months of hard work, absorbing all the literature he could find on the topic and delighting his colleagues with his ideas, enthusiasm, and curiosity. Ricardo also was awarded support through an Einstein Aging Research Training Grant (T32) this summer. Through this funding, he was testing the hypothesis that earlier mealtimes may yield favorable metabolic changes and beneficial effects on healthy aging partially through the human gut microbiota and its related metabolites.
“Ricardo had a tremendous zest for life," said Myles Akabas, Einstein’s MSTP director. “He was curious about the world and the people around him. He had a deep love for his friends and family. He loved to regale people with stories about his adventures and described them with unbridled enthusiasm. He was proud of his accomplishments and of being a member of the Einstein MSTP."
He added, “We, in turn, were incredibly proud to have Ricardo as a member of the MSTP and the Einstein community. His wonderful spirit, enthusiasm, and the joy he brought to people will be missed by everyone who knew and loved him.”
Ricardo also had a strong commitment to increasing diversity and helping those coming up the ladder behind him. He possessed a warm, outgoing personality and a loyalty and love for those close to him. While things did not always work out as Ricardo had planned, he had the grit, determination, creativity, and perseverance to rise to the challenges and flourish.
Ricardo summarized his life experience and career goals in his MSTP application:
“My experiences in the laboratory have taught me to embrace every challenge as an opportunity to push the limits of our knowledge and elevate the status quo. My clinical exposure has instilled in me a deep respect for patients who constantly relativize what is truly important in life. Finally, my time volunteering and serving the community is a constant reminder that I did not get here alone and I am now in a position to give back. I can still remember a time when I was hauling refrigerated chicken cross-country for a living. Grounded in these experiences, I am determined to overcome the challenges that lie ahead and to dedicate my life to upholding the Hippocratic Oath.”
Ricardo’s life was cut short unexpectedly and tragically. We will miss his warm smile, good humor, keen intellect, and his unique, positive perspective on life.
May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration for us all.
We will have a community gathering on Monday November 15, at 5 p.m., in the courtyard outside of student housing, to allow people to share time together and to reminisce about joyful memories of Ricardo and his exploits in life. In addition, if you would like to share a memory of Ricardo or send condolences, please click on Leave a Remembrance.
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Posted on: Friday, November 12, 2021