Antonio Puente is one of the finalists for the 2014 Health Care Heroes Lifetime Achievement award. To read about the other finalists, click here
Just before his ninth birthday, Antonio Puente’s family fled from Cuba to the U.S. with nothing but a little bit of cash and some clothes.
The questions that came to his mind as a result of that experience would contribute to his career choice.
“As early as I could remember, I was curious about how some people adapted and were successful and others were less so,” said Puente, a Wilmington neuropsychologist. “When you live in a one-bedroom apartment with about 11 people in Miami Beach, Florida, you can’t help but ask, ‘Why don’t we have food to eat, and why are we in a school where nobody speaks my language?’”
One of his teachers at a community college in Florida introduced Puente to psychology as a discipline that could help him answer questions about how humans think and behave.
In addition to operating University Neuropsychology, his private practice, Puente’s list of achievements include founding and co-directing Cape Fear Clinic’s mental health program, a bilingual charity care in the region; researching the interface between cultural and clinical neuropsychology; teaching in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Wilmington; and serving as a voting member of the American Medical Association’s Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) editorial panel.
Puente said his work with the Cape Fear Clinic is one of his most gratifying roles, while his CPT panel role has the biggest impact. The group decides whether proposed medical procedures, which can come from any federally recognized health care specialties, are allowed to take place.
“It’s a position of great significance, great responsibility, and I’m very surprised I’m in that post,” he said.
But it’s no surprise to Edelmira Segovia, who has known Puente for 10 years.
“They’re looking for leaders who are visionary, who are not just acting on what the need of today is but anticipating the need of tomorrow and how what we do today impacts the future,” said Segovia, interim associate provost for UNCW’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. “That’s how he operates.”
Segovia met Puente when she was working for the Pender County school system and he was reaching out to the local Hispanic community in his role as founding director of Centro Hispano, a UNCW organization that aims to support the school’s Hispanic students.
She said Puente’s dedication to family is another source of inspiration. Puente and his wife, Linda, live in Wilmington, and his daughter, Krista, is a clinical psychologist and teacher in Florida. His son Antonio is working on a postdoctoral fellowship in neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins, and his son Lucas is a PhD student in political economics at Stanford.
While navigating the many facets of his busy life, Puente said that being of some value to society is what drives him.
“You want to make sure that at the end of the road, you can look back and say I helped make a difference,” Puente said. “I’d be very disappointed if I couldn’t answer that question in the affirmative.”