From church pulpits and Zoom town halls to administering the vaccine in the Swamp, Dr. Mike Lauzardo is seemingly everywhere in his quest to contain COVID-19. Read his optimistic answer to the question on everyone’s mind: When will things return to normal?
“From the very beginning, I always envisioned a career of service. Our parents encouraged us with the old saying, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’”
That is how Dr. Mike Lauzardo — pulmonologist, deputy director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute and director of the UF Health Screen, Test & Protect initiative — explains his longstanding commitment to public health. The younger son of hardworking Cuban immigrants and a man of deep faith, Lauzardo (MD ’91), 56, has indefatigably led UF’s efforts to keep campus and community safe since the coronavirus pandemic erupted in March 2020.
He oversees the university’s screening, testing and communitywide vaccination protocols; has held more than 70 town halls for faculty and staff; writes a biweekly pandemic newsletter that reaches 33,000+ UF faculty and employees; has helped Alachua County vaccinate more than 11,000 individuals — and that is just a fraction of his efforts to improve the public good.
He holds dedicated town halls in Spanish for UF cleaning staff and farmworkers across the state. On weekends, you’ll find him speaking at churches on Gainesville’s east side to overcome vaccine hesitancy among people of color and marginalized groups.
Oh, and there’s his work abroad. Since 2011, he has overseen UF’s Haiti Public Health Research Laboratory, in Gressier, Haiti, a country with the highest tuberculosis rates in the Americas.
About six times a year, he and his wife, fellow Gator physician Dr. Eileen Lauzardo (MD ’91), travel to Latin America to treat children with cancer through their Keira Grace Foundation, a life-giving nonprofit born from the ashes of personal tragedy. In 2003, the Lauzardos lost their 17-month-old daughter, Keira, to leukemia. Since then, their foundation has helped thousands of children in developing countries get excellent, free cancer care.
“Around 300 to 400 children are alive today who wouldn’t be otherwise,” he noted about the Keira Grace Foundation survivors.
Despite working around the clock, Lauzardo recently found time to sit down with Gator Nation News. Here are excerpts from that interview:
March 25, 2021
I think it will be a gradual process. There’s still a bit of heavy lifting left. We’ve got to get the majority of people vaccinated, we’ve got to not give up the masks yet. Like I keep saying, keep fighting until the bell rings. I think it happens relatively soon.
The problem is, we are still going to have to monitor things for the next six or seven months. Make sure people are doing what they need to do. All of those protocols work, and if people cooperate, it will be good. … It’s not going to be like a light switch, but I think this has the potential to be one fantastic summer.
I don’t know if I’ve been successful at keeping sane (laughs), but my faith gives me context, and the motivation behind doing things gives me grounding. I feel like I am doing something much bigger than myself, much bigger than COVID.
On the day-to-day, more human side of things — between sleep, exercise and eating, I’ve got two of the three that I’m doing well. … Most days, I get up at 4 a.m. and ride my stationary bike for 45 minutes and do other exercises. I go for a really long (10-mile) run on the weekends. Usually eating is a fast thing, but I’m doing better with my nutrition lately.
Yeah, that’s where I’m at, too.
Look, this work with COVID needs to be done, and if there is time now to be awake, it’s time to do it. So, I’m extremely tired all the time, but I’m extremely exhilarated at the same time. It might sound crazy to say that, but these interactions keep me going and motivate my colleagues to do the same.
Look in the summer/fall 2021 issue of Florida Gator magazine for an in-depth story on Dr. Mike Lauzardo. Become a member of the UF Alumni Association here to have the magazine mailed free to your home. Visit https://connect.ufalumni.ufl.edu/home to join.
Access key resources about COVID-19 and updates from UF Health, including videos with Dr. Lauzardo and his colleagues, at https://coronavirus.ufhealth.org/
Learn more about the Keira Grace Foundation at https://keiragracefoundation.org