Physician, philanthropist, humanitarian

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By Alex Branch


Anne Alaniz, DO

Anne Alaniz, DO, grew up in rural Malawi, a country in southeast Africa, where disease was widespread and her elementary school desk was stacked bricks coated by hardened mud.

2017 Commencement Ceremony

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, May 20

Where: Schollmaier Arena, Texas Christian University

Social media: #UNTHSCgrad

Other highlights:

  • Ceremony will honor graduates of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, School of Public Health, School of Health Professions and the UNT System College of Pharmacy
  • Presentation of the first President’s Alumni Award for Distinguished Service and the first Faculty Achievement Award, chosen by a committee of peers led by the Faculty Senate
  • Commissioning of graduates who are entering into military service

The future was bleak, especially for a young girl who dreamed of growing up to be a doctor.

“Given where I was, there was little chance of that happening,” she said.

Until a visiting medical missionary named Dr. Donna Ivey saw potential in Dr. Alaniz and brought her to the United States at age 17 in 1994.

That act of kindness set Dr. Alaniz on a remarkable path: to UNT Health Science Center, where she earned a medical degree; to Houston Methodist Hospital where she is a gynecological oncologist; and back to Malawi, where she founded Pothawira, a women and children’s health care facility, orphanage and school that gives hope to women and children in her home country.

It is for those reasons UNTHSC will honor Dr. Alaniz with the inaugural President’s Alumni Award for Distinguished Service on May 20 during commencement ceremonies. The award will be given each year to a graduate for outstanding personal and professional achievement. It will recognize that alumnus’ commitment to creating solutions for a healthier community, being a servant leader, and for being a role model to others.

Dr. Alaniz chose the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in part because it was the most helpful and supportive as she worked through the complicated application and residency requirements that international students face, she said.

“The Health Science Center gave me the opportunity to become a doctor, which is the greatest gift imaginable for a girl from a village in Malawi,” she said.

Today, Dr. Alaniz demonstrates one of UNTHSC’s core values of serving others first through the compassionate care she provides to women with gynecological cancer in Houston, and the women and children she helps through Pothawira, the facility she founded in 2011 in Malawi. In her native language of Chichewa, Pothawira translates to “Safe Haven.”

It includes a school for more than 300 children, a medical facility for women and children, and an orphanage with 12 widows each caring for 11 children. In an area stricken by an endless cycle of poverty, disease and illiteracy, Pothawira offers life-changing support and a hope for a better future to many who lack access to basic needs of life, such as food, clean water, education and health care.

In addition, Dr. Alaniz has raised awareness and money to fund Pothawira and help provide clean water in Malawi by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.

“When I left for the United States my dream was to put myself in a position to one day return and help give children in Malawi the opportunity for better lives,” she said. “I feel so fortunate and grateful that I am able to do that.”

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