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  Real People

Sandoval County Heroes

(Left to right): Orlando Lucero, Nora Scherzinger, Darryl Madalena, Valentina Duran (for Arsenio Duran), Saith “Si” Budagher, Walter Heaton, Don Chapman, Glen Walters

County honors community heroes

When people streamed into the Fiesta Cultural Hispania in Rio Rancho’s Haynes Park on May 4, they fulfilled the vision of Saith “Si” Budagher.

This celebration of Spanish culture, in its fourth year, is one of two major events designed to “build a bridge” between Rio Rancho’s First Baptist Church, where Budagher is senior pastor, and the larger community. The second is the Harvest Festival, the widely popular Halloween event that started more than 15 years ago. Though the event started small, it quickly attracted support from local businesses and is now the most heavily attended festival in Rio Rancho. Its success inspired the formation of the Fiesta Cultural Hispania.”

In addition to these two high-profile festivals, Budagher spawned the formation of a monthly clothing exchange known as Joan’s Closet, named after Joan Houghteling, a now-deceased church member who started the program, and a twice-monthly event called the Blessings Food Pantry that provides food for those in need. For his work in spearheading these and other community service projects, Sandoval County Commissioner Glenn Walters has designated Budagher a “Sandoval County Community Hero.”

Budagher is one of three individuals who received that designation at the regular meeting of the Sandoval County Commission in May. The others were Officer Walter Heaton from the Corrales Police Department and Arsenio Duran, a recently deceased resident of Placitas, who also was known for organizing fiestas and performing various acts of community service.

Commissioner Nora Scherzinger tabbed Officer Heaton for the award, noting that the 27-year veteran of the Corrales Police force has been the department’s DARE office since 1990. “He has been the inspiration to hundreds of elementary school children,” Commissioner Scherzinger says. “He is the antithesis of what people normally envision when thinking of a law enforcement officer. He is a kind person, and he is passionate about his program. He truly cares about the welfare of all of youth. He is respected by the school staff, by parents, and the community at large. In Corrales, he’s everybody’s hero.”

Arsenio Duran was similarly passionate about the community of Placitas, according to Commissioner Orlando Lucero, who selected Duran as a Community Hero. “From the time I became a commissioner in 2007, Arsenio would call me every Saturday and give me a list of things that needed to be addressed in the Village of Placitas,” Commissioner Lucero recalls.

That list was generated on the walks Duran took through the village each morning. However, his service to the community didn’t end with taking walks and making phone calls. Along with his wife Valentina, and his ten children, Duran was constantly at work, sprucing up the local church and cemetery. He also organized fiestas and made sure the locations were cleaned up after the festivities ended.

“Though he is no longer with us, we should recognize Arsenio Duran, his wife, and family for a job well done,” Commissioner Lucero says.

The same is said of all three Sandoval County Community Heroes.

BJ and Alan Firestone

BJ and Alan Firestone in Venice

Dr. Firestone to retire from El Pueblo Health Services

—Karen Lermuseaux

Dr. Alan Firestone will retire on June 25, 2013, after 37 years practicing medicine in New Mexico—specifically, in Bernalillo. During our interview, he recalled how Bernalillo has changed from a one-traffic-light town. He said many times he would be driving home from a hospital in Albuquerque and come upon an accident on I-25 and have to wait until another vehicle came by that could go get help. He was so glad to finally get a mobile phone.

Dr. Firestone was born in Ohio and comes from a long line of physicians. His family has Russian-Austrian-Hungarian roots, immigrating to the US in the 1890s. His father was a medical doctor, and Alan recalls accompanying him on house calls from the time he was sixteen. His paternal grandmother worked at a doctor’s office in their steel mill town. Firestone recalls, “She would have been an excellent doctor, but was not allowed to be at that time.” Her brother became an MD, as was expected in a family so drawn to the medical profession. His maternal grandfather was a doctor in Youngstown.

Firestone graduate from Ohio University, then UCLA, and finally North Carolina. He recalls deciding to follow family practice medicine, because he so liked “sitting on the patients’ beds and talking to them.” He spent ten years in the Navy, followed by eleven years in the Public Health Service. He came to New Mexico to visit friends, and, when the opportunity arose in 1976, he chose to work in Bernalillo. He retired as a Captain in the Navy Reserve in 1998.

Firestone and his wife BJ have raised their two children in Placitas and are firmly entrenched there in a comfortable home.

Dr. Firestone says the best part of his practice in New Mexico has been the variety of patients he has treated, including, “old Hispanics, immigrants from Mexico, retired military staff, and old hippies.” El Pueblo Health Services was started in 1976, using half of a building shared with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They eventually used the entire building as the practice grew. Firestone remembers getting a used x-ray machine from the village of Cuba that was built in about 1948. He remembers how they did their own lab work in the beginning. “How things have changed” he said, “Now most lab work must go to specific insurance approved sites to meet payment requirements.”

Firestone estimates that he has seen more than twenty medical students per year come through his office, as part of his teaching at UNM Hospital where he has volunteered an average two hundred hours yearly. He has also volunteered on numerous medical boards, as the Medical Director for Foothills Ambulance and other Sandoval County rescue services. He taught the first Emergency Medical Technician class in Sandoval County in 1978.

When I worked at Foothills Ambulance, Dr. Firestone seemed to be available 24 hours a day for consult, concerns, questions, and even the occasional patient transport.

Increased record-keeping requirements have presented a frustrating challenge in a modern medical practice. Firestone fondly recalls a time when he could see about thirty patients per day when he was hand-charting. When transcription became the norm, he had to become proficient at dictating notes and could only see about twenty-five. Now, with electronic charting, he estimates he can see only about twenty patients per day. He expressed frustration with trying to access patient information via the electronic methods—there is no universal system, and often staff are too busy charting on the computer to respond to a physician phone call. El Pueblo discontinued hospital rounds about ten years ago, and Firestone misses the personal contact with other physicians regarding patient care and follow-up.

Dr. Firestone said his ancestors seemed to pick up languages easily, and that he has worked on his French, some Turkish, Italian, and Spanish and is looking forward to studying Portuguese during his retirement. He became interested in the violin at the age of thirty, and participates in chamber music groups on a regular basis. He recently traveled to New Orleans to participate in a Jazz Festival. His music room at his home accommodates eight instruments, and he is looking forward to learning piano on his grandfather’s baby grand. He loves to read as well, and says, “My reading list includes dozens of books that are stacked up in my library.”

He has also played soccer for decades, and plans to continue to play with the Rogues, a team that started in the 1970s. He hopes to be picked up by a veteran team from in San Diego.

Firestone’s legacy in Sandoval County and the Town of Bernalillo will continue at El Pueblo Health Services with two physicians, two nurse practitioners, a physician assistant, and a nurse midwife. The clinic is now housed in a fine building constructed with the help of funds raised by local businesses.

El Pueblo has come a long way since 1976, and so has our community. Thank you, Dr. Firestone, for your medical care and guidance over the years.

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