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Meet Our Doctors

Teresa Swida, DO
General Practice Physician;
Bioethics Chair, Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital, Glendale, CA

Caring for our patients means caring for our planet.

As a long time physician to the underserved in Los Angeles, I have witnessed how our environment affects human health and I know that climate warming will only accelerate our social ills. I support measures to make our communities greener and more sustainable to improve the health of all residents and especially the poor.  Dignity Health's values - "Protecting the health of our most vulnerable community members while advocating to reduce the impact of carbon pollution" - reflect my personal values and commitment as a doctor to truly care for patients and our planet.

Sunil K. Saini, MD
Asthma and Allergy Specialist, Upland
Associate Clinical Professor, UC Irvine

Clean air is the right of every individual

As a specialist in treating childhood asthma, I see first-hand the effects that pollution has on the health of our most vulnerable population.  Studies show that children who grow up in the poor air quality region where I work have less-developed lungs when they are older.  Scientists are also showing that global climate change is resulting in longer and more intense allergy seasons, due to changes in plant patterns. I have personally seen these changes over the last several years in the form of more severe asthma attacks and longer allergy seasons.   We should view clean air as a right of every individual. We must work together to improve air quality to ensure a healthy future for not only ourselves, but also for future generations.

Marc Futernick, MD
Medical Director, Emergency Dept.,
Dignity Health California Hospital
Medical Center, Los Angeles

Climate action is the best medicine.

As an emergency physician, I see the profound effect climate change will have on our lives. Mortality increases during heat waves from a variety of illnesses. Air quality negatively impacts asthma and other pulmonary and cardiac diseases, particularly when related to wildfires, now commonplace in the Western US.  Unless we take bold action now, more frequent heat waves, wildfires, flooding, and other natural disasters will wreak havoc on our communities. The worldwide struggle for clean water and habitable space, and the resultant displacement of people, will lead to unprecedented human suffering. If we care about people, we need to address climate change now.

Julie Freischlag, MD
Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine, UC Davis

Our doctors and scientists agree: we must act on climate change.

UC Davis is a leader in addressing climate change with expertise in air pollution, drought and other environmental factors which affects acute and chronic health in our patients. In addition to exacerbation of asthma, shortness of breath, and other health issues, climate change will accelerate cardiovascular disease, malignancies and malnutrition. We are teaching the effects of climate change to our medical students, veterinary medicine students and biological sciences students so they can teach our patients. We are proud to join with the White House in leading the way to combat climate change, along with other schools of medicine, schools of public health and nursing schools. 

Richard Jackson, MD, MPH
Former Director, CDC's National Center for Environmental Health; Professor, Envl Health Sciences, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

Climate change is happening now, and faster than we thought.

Climate change is happening, and happening faster than we thought. It is critical that health leaders step up to educate the public and policy makers on the need to do more to reduce climate pollution to halt global warming. The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health has committed to ensuring that the next generation of health professionals are trained to effectively address the health impacts of climate change. There's too much at stake if we don't.

Afif El-Hasan, MD
Pediatrician, San Juan Capistrano;
Governing Board Member, American Lung Association in California

Cutting emissions today means healthier children tomorrow.

Like air pollution, climate change impacts vulnerable populations the most, including our children, seniors and communities already disadvantaged by pollution and poverty. As a pediatrician, I see firsthand the harm caused by our oil addiction. Children living in polluted areas experience higher rates of asthma and slowed lung development. This is a terrible burden we are putting on our children and future generations.  We must dedicate all available resources to get off fossil fuels to protect children today and into the future.

Stephen Maxwell, MD
Medical Director, Thoracic Surgery, Sutter Roseville Medical Center

Cleaning up freight pollution will reduce lung cancer and lung disease.

As a lung surgeon, I see up close the damages caused by air pollution. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer for both men and women, but it doesn't have to be. California's clean air and climate leadership are making our air and our lungs healthier, but our freight systems still threaten our health and climate. By transitioning to zero emission freight solutions, we will fight climate change while cutting carcinogenic diesel emissions and rates of lung cancer and lung disease. With cleaner, more sustainable freight, we will improve air quality in the communities I serve which will help them breathe easier and lead healthier lives.

Geoffrey L. Gaggero, DPM
Podiatrist, Roseville

Zero emission choices will save our health and our planet.

Why is fighting for climate health so important to me? I want my children (and hopefully grandchildren) to appreciate and experience the same beauty I have throughout my life on this planet. I am doing my part - I drive an electric car and have installed solar panels on my roof at home to power that car. If we all make choices that reduce emissions, we can make a difference and protect our environment and the health of future generations. Let's save our planet as we would one another.

Mary Anne Tablizo, MD
Pediatric Pulmonologist
Valley Children's Hospital, Fresno

Strong clean air leadership will help my patients in the Valley breathe easier.

As a pediatric pulmonary specialist, I support policies that will help improve air quality in the Central Valley. Communities designed around healthy transportation options like walking, biking and public transit can promote cleaner air, protect our environment, as well as help reduce obesity and a wide range of chronic illnesses. By calling on our leaders to support clean air policies, I can help my patients today and into the future.

Catherine Sonquist Forest, MD, MPH
Family Physician, Asst. Clinical Prof of Medicine, Medical Director, Stanford Health Care at Los Altos

Fighting climate change is critical primary care medicine.

I have been professionally involved in public health for over 35 years and a family doctor for over 20 years.  Science continues to demonstrate that it is critical we make deeper cuts in pollution from industrial and agricultural practices. In order to stop the downward and damaging spiral of human and environmental health impacts due to global climate change, we need to act now.  I feel compelled to speak out as a provider of primary care for all people concerned.  Invest in health, not in fossil fuels.

Daya Upadhyay, MD
Medical Director, Lung Nodule Program; Associate Prof of Medicine, UCSF Fresno, Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine

Got pollution, clean it up. Because every breath counts.

Climate change imposes a serious threat to human health and our environment.  As a physician and researcher, I have seen the adverse effects of climate change: rising temperatures, increase in smog, ground ozone levels and air pollution presenting as increasing breathing difficulties, worsening exacerbations of asthma and COPD, respiratory infections and lung cancers in my patients.  We must act now, raise our voices to fight climate change and strongly support California's clean air policies to improve public health and to make a better livable environment for us now and for our future generations.  Do your bit to reduce air pollution and get cleaner air, because every breath counts.

Hassan Bencheqroun MD, FCCP
Interventional Pulmonary, Pacific Pulmonary Medical Group

Patients with lung disorders are most impacted by air pollution.

As an expert in lung disease, my top mandate is to help people with lung problems breathe easier. We know that even when people improve their health by kicking smoking and exercising more, air pollution can slow that progress, and lead to more pulmonary and cardiovascular consequences. Our patients trust our recommendations. We as healthcare professionals must be vocal in trying to help our patients at the community level, and by supporting clean air legislation that will protect their health. We will all benefit today and into the future, including our own families.

Michael Ong, MD, PhD

Associate Professor in Residence
David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA

Healthy solutions will help California achieve smog and soot goals.

Air pollution harms lung health, affects lung development and growth in children, causes asthma attacks and kills thousands of Californians each year. We need to get out of our cars and make walking and cycling the easy choice. And we need cleaner fuel choices to reduce air pollution and climate change. I support the rapid transition away from dirty gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of healthier options like electricity and hydrogen. These are key health solutions that will help everyone breathe easier.

Bruce Bekkar, MD
Obstetrics and Gynecology
San Diego

We must act decisively, and now.

As an Ob/Gyn, I have taken care of women for 30 years, and realized that their environment has as much to do with their pregnancies and health outcomes as anything we might do for them. The food patients eat, the water they drink, and the air they breathe are all crucial for their well-being. The climate crisis threatens each of these, and therefore health professionals must be at the front of this fight. Science tells us that we can't wait and incremental improvements aren't enough. We must act decisively, and now.

David Pepper, MD
Staff Physician, Contra Costa Health Services
Co-Founder, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air

The planet has a fever

I address climate change as a physician.  The patient - our planet - has a fever. In addition to increased temperatures, the acid level in the oceans has increased 0.15 units in the last 100 years.  If a human patient had these findings, we'd have them in the ICU, and perhaps on life support.  The cause is clear: carbon pollution. We need less cars, and more walkable, bike-able infrastructure and smarter, cleaner energy alternatives.  Many physicians and scientists are working on solutions.  What are you doing?

Angela Wang, MD
President, California Thoracic Society
Physician, Scripps Clinic San Diego

Clean air reduces asthma, lung disease and lung cancer.

Climate change is a major threat to public health. As a pulmonologist, I see the ravages of air pollution on adult patients with lung and heart diseases every day. But air pollution also adversely affects the health of our children, slowing lung growth and contributing to asthma. It doesn't have to be that way. We deserve clean air for ourselves and our children. That's the future I'm fighting for. The California Thoracic Society is committed to working with partner organizations such as the Lung Association to reduce climate pollution and protect the health of communities across California.

Darin Latimore, MD
Past President, American College of Physicians, California Services Chapter
Associate Dean, Student/Resident Diversity,
UC Davis School of Medicine

Dirty air affects us all, but especially children.

Dirty air affects all of us, but our children, the elderly, low-income and communities of color, and those living with lung disease face the greatest burdens from air pollution and climate change. More than 7,000 Californians die prematurely from air pollution annually. Children living in polluted areas experience slowed lung development and are at higher risk for developing asthma. This is a terrible burden we are putting on our children and future generations.  We must do everything we can to reduce pollution.

Robert M. Gould, MD
President, SF-Bay Area Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Associate Adj. Professor
UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment

We must act urgently to halt global warming.

As a physician dedicated to protecting human life from the greatest threats to health and survival, I believe we need to act urgently to halt the worsening course of global warming. We need to speak clearly about the health impacts of continued fossil fuel use, and encourage all health professionals to support sustainable energy choices that guarantee a livable world for future generations.

Cindy Russell, MD
Chair, Environmental Health Committee
Santa Clara County Medical Association

I vote for a stable climate and clean air.

To do so we need to extract ourselves from the use of oil, gas and coal, implementing  cradle to cradle clean energy systems in concert with conservation measures. Oil wells and pipelines will not create a clean energy future.  Walkable cities, expanded bike routes, solar power and local organic sustainable food systems address not only climate change and air pollution but also the major health threats we see as physicians such as asthma, cancer, heart disease and obesity. Industry, governments and individuals alike need to think about transforming their habits of consumption and travel.  Together we can preserve a healthy, beautiful, livable planet.

Jose Joseph-Vempilly, MD
Professor of Medicine
Pulmonary & Critical Care, UCSF-Fresno 

We are what we breathe.

The Central Valley has been consistently ranked one of the regions with the worst air quality in the nation for over a decade. It's high time we clean up our act and the air we breathe. We owe this to our children and patients with heart disease and lung diseases such as asthma, COPD and lung cancer. California is taking the lead to protect our health, but we can all pitch in to clean up the air every day. Avoid wood burning, add more walking and biking to your routines, and choose cleaner transportation. With cleaner air, we can reduce the burden of asthma and COPD in the Valley.

Penny Borenstein, MD, MPH
Health Officer
San Luis Obispo County Health Agency 

We take health and climate change personally.

As a health officer with the San Luis Obispo Public Health Department, I view climate change as an urgent health issue.  I am working hard with my staff to educate the public about ways we can work together to improve health and fight climate change.  For the past year, my department has worked on a climate change messaging project with the California Department of Public Health called OutsideIn SLO: We Take Health and Climate Change Personally.  Our goal is to integrate messages about climate change into all of our local health work. Through lectures, outreach, and a strong social media component, we'll be doing our part to raise awareness of climate impacts in our community. We invite others to join us!

John R. Balmes, MD
Professor of Medicine, UCSF;
Professor of Environmental Health Sciences,
UC Berkeley

Climate change is the most important environmental threat to public health.

As a physician and researcher, I know that climate change is an urgent health issue that affects my patients now and future generations.  In fact climate change is the most significant environmental threat to public health of our century. A survey of American Thoracic Society members finds that the majority of doctors surveyed are already seeing health effects in their patients that they believe are linked to climate change. These include increased diseases related to air pollution, increased allergic reactions from plants and molds, and increased injuries related to severe weather.   As physicians, we must raise our voices against the public health threat of climate change just like we did with cigarettes a generation ago.

Praveen Buddiga, MD
Allergy and Asthma, Fresno

Cleaner fuels will help my patients breathe easier.

We have no control over the air we breathe, but we do have a say in what pollutes it. My patients in the San Joaquin Valley suffer the side effects of pollution every day, whether they live in cities or rural areas. They have the most to lose if we don't continue pushing for cleaner air. Their health is at stake and we must do more. That is why I support California taking the lead in reducing carbon pollution from transportation fuels.

Sonal R. Patel, MD

Pediatric Asthma, Los Angeles

I owe it to my children to fight for climate health.

With asthma, you wheeze, your chest tightens, you cough and are short of breath. It is a terrifying experience for my patients and their families. As a physician, I work hard to take care of my patients. But it is just as important to take care of future generations when we know their health is at risk. It is the least we can provide them - a healthy environment to live and breathe in. I want to be able to tell my children and grandchildren I did everything I could to fight for clean air and a healthy climate. What is more important?

Linda Rudolph, MD, MPH
Center for Climate Change and Health, Public Health Institute

Invest in health, not harmful fuels.

Fossil fuels are harming our children and their future - we need to move away from them now. We know that  burning oil, coal and gas fouls the air we breathe, and causes climate change that impacts our water, our food, and our security.  California is on the path to cut oil use in half and get half of our energy from clean sources – that's critical, but we can't stop there. We owe it to our communities and our children to invest in clean air, clean fuels, clean cars, transportation options, and healthy communities for a healthy future.

Atul Malhotra, MD

Pulmonologist, San Diego

My patients need stronger ozone standards.

Our federal ozone standards must be strengthened.  My patients and even healthy adults are experiencing respiratory symptoms while breathing air that is considered "safe" under current standards. Worldwide, more chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is attributable to pollution than to cigarette smoking, particularly in women. Cleaner air is critical to improving asthma and COPD rates, reducing respiratory admissions to our hospitals and helping everyone breathe easier.

Sharon Chinthrajah, MD
Pulmonary/Critical Care and Allergy/Immunology, Stanford

All communities deserve a healthy climate.

Air pollution has detrimental effects on fetal development, sends people to the hospital for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and worsens asthma and COPD. Our most vulnerable populations, the poorest and those most exposed to high traffic pollution, experience the greatest risk to their health. Climate leadership is about improving the lives of our most vulnerable communities and bringing hope for a better future. Even small changes can make a big impact – ride your bike, drive electric, add solar panels, and make a concerted effort now to improve our environment for the future.

David Tom Cooke, MD and Lung Surgery Team
UC Davis, Sacramento

Fighting for a healthy climate.

My lung surgery team (including Valerie Kuderer, RN, and Elizabeth David, MD, pictured) sees the impact of air pollution on our patients' lungs on a daily basis. Too many of our patients surviving lung diseases are being sickened by air pollution. Dirty air increases the risk of lung cancer, not to mention heart disease, and asthma, and diminishes Californians' quality of life. We stand in support of our state's clean air laws. People all across our great state are taking action for the health of their families, their friends and future generations. Will you stand with us to protect our clean air laws from outside interests?

Alex Sherriffs, MD

Family Medicine, Fowler

CA’s leadership is keeping my patients healthy.

As a practicing physician in the Central Valley, I see the adverse health consequences of air pollution every day. Strategies that lower CO2 emissions under AB32 and Cap and Trade also lower ozone precursors and the most deadly small particle pollutants. I am proud Californians have made our state a global leader in confronting climate change. We can all breathe easier today, and future generations will respect and thank us for our commitment to making difficult choices now.

Karen Jakpor, MD

Volunteer Physician, American Lung Association in California, Riverside

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.

Forget the "controversy"-- fighting for clean air results in reduced greenhouse gas emissions and benefits the health of all. No matter what your political persuasion, you need to breathe. As an asthmatic I know first-hand that when you can't breathe, nothing else matters. Air pollution not only affects the lungs-- it can cause heart attacks, stroke, and cancer. For the sake of our children, let's clean the air.

Benson Chen, MD

Critical Care & Pulmonary Medicine, San Francisco

Clean air equals healthy air.

Climate health is of critical importance to our own personal well-being and that of our children and future generations. We can all agree that air pollution threatens our ability to breathe comfortably and provide a safe and healthy climate for our children and grandchildren. The stakes are too high if we do nothing. I ask you to join me in our efforts to protect our air and environment now and for the future.

Felix Aguilar, MD, MPH
Family Practice, Los Angeles

My patients need cleaner air.

As a medical doctor, I treat asthma and seek ways to prevent it. I know that air pollution is a cause of asthma. That's why I believe physicians need to work closely with policymakers to battle air pollution. Solutions exist to overhaul today's conventional industries and freight vehicles using low-carbon systems that clean our air, improve our health and help curb climate change.

    Page Last Updated: August 8, 2016

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