Former St. Jude patient now a champion for her community

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 7:30 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Born in Bolivia, but saved in Memphis is how Shelby County Democratic Party Charwoman Gabby Salinas describes her upbringing.

“My family immigrated here to the United States when I was seven years old in 1996 so that I could receive treatment at St. Jude, I had aggressive bone cancer that was growing in my spine,” Salinas said.

Salinas remembers it as a scary time with a lot of unknowns.

“When we first came we really weren’t sure what was happening what my diagnosis was or anything like that so at the beginning I came just with my dad,” Salinas said.

Being in a new country was a bit of a culture shock.

She welcomes the changes she’s seen since her childhood.

“It was very interesting also because it was in the 90′s and there wasn’t a lot of Spanish speaking people, there wasn’t a lot of Spanish restaurants. Now you go down Summer and you have great taquerias, and pupusas and all these diverse foods, back in the mid 90′s there wasn’t a lot of diversity,” Salinas said.

At 15 Salinas was battling a different type of cancer, she was on and off treatment until 2007. During that time she came to see St. Jude as her second home.

“It’s been very much a big part of my childhood, and it has shaped who I am and what I do and what I’ve decided to do as a profession,” Salinas said.

She says spending that much time among some of the best doctors and being curious about the disease which impacted her led her to study biochemistry at Christian Brothers University.

“You know when you’re a child you ask a lot of questions, you know kids they ask like a million questions, well that was me but the setting that I was in was in a hospital,” Salinas said.

She later went on to become a researcher at the very hospital she credits with saving her life.

“I was able to get an internship there and then my senior year I also worked as a an intern and when I graduated I joined a lab,” Salinas said.

She worked with St. Jude until 2016, a journey she says awakened her to health disparities in the Mid-South, and led her to interest in becoming a political candidate.

“Because health disparities are so important to me and access to health care is very important I decide to run for office and get in the political arena,” Salinas said.

Salinas ran for Tennessee state Senate in 2018 and the state House in 2020, but was not elected.

In August of 2021 she was elected as the chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party, making her the first Hispanic to hold that position.

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