TrĂas, who died in 2001, was born in New York City on this day in 1929. She spent her early childhood years in Puerto Rico, and the island and its people would remain significant throughout her life.
TrĂas completed both her undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Puerto Rico, securing her medical degree in 1960. During her residency â€” and while raising four children â€” TrĂas established Puerto Ricoâ€™s first care center for newborn babies, halving her hospitalâ€™s infant death rate in three years, according to the National Institutes of Healthâ€™s (NIH) Changing the Face of Medicine project.
A decade after graduating, TrĂas returned to New York City and threw herself into work at Lincoln Hospital, which served largely low-income Puerto Rican patients in the South Bronx. There, she headed the department of pediatrics and eventually developed a passion for improving womenâ€™s health and abortion rights.
TrĂas was pivotal in reshaping practices around female sterilization, which at the time was commonly used on women of color, women with disabilities and low-income women, according to the NIH. She was a founding member of both the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse and the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse, and helped draft federal sterilization guidelines in 1979.
In the 1980s, TrĂas worked as the medical director of the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, where she fought to improve the health and well-being of women with AIDS. Throughout the rest of her career, she continued to devote herself to womenâ€™s and childrenâ€™s health, along the way becoming the founder of the New York Latino Commission on AIDS and the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association, according to the New York Times.
In 2001 â€” the same year she died from complications of lung cancer â€” her efforts earned her a Presidential Citizenâ€™s Medal.