A Helping Hand

By Chandra Harris-McCray

His father’s sacrifice after Cuban revolution shapes dentist’s life

More than five decades ago, Sunday worship service in Havana turned into a bloodbath as the cathedral doors swung open to gunfire.

“At the expense of many lives, Fidel Castro made his presence and promises known,” says Memphis dentist, Dr. Fred C. Heros. The incident left his mother with fractured ribs from when his older brothers jumped on her to protect her. “This changed our family forever.”

At 9, Heros fled Cuba with his parents and two brothers to escape the Communist regime.

“We left behind everything —a nice house, my dad’s job as director of a children’s hospital in Havana, family — mostly physicians — that lived within two blocks of one another,” Heros says. “All we had was $5. We left everything up to God.”

“My dad went from being in medicine to pumping gas so we would have food on the table and a roof over our heads,” Heros says.

“My dad went from being in medicine to pumping gas so we would have food on the table and a roof over our heads.”Leaving behind addresses in Miami and the Bahamas, “My dad eventually practiced medicine again when we settled in Memphis, and I wanted to be just like him and help people,” says Heros.

Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Memphis State University, he went on to earn his doctor of dental surgery in 1975 from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and serve in the U.S. Army National Guard, retiring in 1976 as first lieutenant. His brother, Dr. Roberto Heros, a neurosurgeon, graduated in 1968 from UTHSC.

Thirty years later, his dental practice continues to thrive on Covington Pike in Memphis. Mentoring dozens of dentistry students and seeing 30-plus patients a day is all in a day’s work for Heros, who defines his dentistry career as a passion.

“Every day I get to help someone — there is just nothing better,” he says.

Since retirement isn’t in his vocabulary, Heros also practices as part of a network of dentists who voluntarily agree to perform emergency dental surgeries for adults and children who cannot afford the care.

His involvement in the community is extensive. He’s been president of the Tennessee Dental Association and the Memphis Dental Society, held various leadership roles on the UTHSC College of Dentistry Alumni Board of Trustees and the Mid-South Dental Congress, and served on the board of directors of the St. Jude Liberty Bowl.

Heros was named the 2012 College of Dentistry Outstanding Alumnus during the College of Dentistry Alumni Board of Trustees’ meeting in Miami at the Fontainbleau Hotel last year. It reminded him of what his father used to say of the hotel when they lived there. “Son, when you are able to eat and stay in that hotel, then you’ve made it,” Heros recalls.

“Lo and behold, I wasn’t just in the hotel,” he says, “but I was being honored, something I never dreamed of as a young boy riding past that hotel with my father. He would be so proud.”