As the pandemic suddenly shut down campus last spring, Dr. Salvatore Biazzo of UNLV’s Faculty and Staff Treatment (FAST) Clinic and Student Health Center scrambled to switch to telehealth visits as COVID temporarily put an end to in-person appointments.
A year later, he was front and center at UNLV's campus vaccination clinic as the university did its part to try to get everyone inoculated.
As Biazzo was battling on the front lines of the pandemic, some of his colleagues took notice and nominated him as the Administrative Faculty Member of the Year.
“I was kind of shocked," Biazzo said. "Awards are the last thing on my mind. We’re just so busy. I didn’t realize people had taken the time to write a letter (about me). But it was like a shot in the arm. It kind of made me tear up. You don’t realize how you impact people.”
Where do you think the pandemic is headed?
I think we’re at a crossroads. We are doing a pretty decent job of testing and getting people vaccinated, but people need to take it a little more seriously. My gut feeling is we have opened the country up too soon and too quickly. We will have some setbacks. I hope they are not too major.
I’m very fearful for anybody who is not vaccinated. Delta is very dangerous. It is so imperative that people get vaccinated. We need to have at least 70 percent of Americans vaccinated.
What was it like working on campus during the early days of the pandemic?
That was radically different. We had to scramble; we weren’t set up for telehealth. First, we just did telephone calls. Then within several weeks we could access complete records online and then do teleconferencing.
Luckily, we had the FAST Center (which has waiting and exam rooms separate from the student health center). We made FAST our "sick" center. We were trying to keep patients safe but still see everyone. We didn’t want well people sitting with people who were sick.
And at least one full day a week I was involved with the COVID vaccinations. I was in the ‘post vaccination’ area, dealing with people who had problems after the vaccination. Luckily only a few had serious reactions. More were panic attacks. I did a lot of calming down for people. You name it, I probably heard the question. It was a constant education process. I worked with the School of Public Health doing webinars to tell people there just isn’t anything to fear. It’s safer to get the vaccine than the disease.
I had two relatives die. One was very early on in the pandemic — my cousin, John, about three years older than me. He ended up on a ventilator. About two weeks later he was dead.
What helped you make it through the pandemic?
My dog Cymba is my right hand and my best friend. He’s a yellow lab and pitbull mix. He kept me sane and active during the pandemic. We would hike five miles a day.
How did you choose a career in medicine?
I came to this country (from Sicily) when I was 2 years old. I learned English at about 5. I would watch PBS. Nova used to show a lot of things like open-heart surgery.
What brought you to UNLV?
I was in private practice for many years here in town. I was working 18-hour days, six days a week. It got crazier and crazier. Out of the blue, I got a letter from UNLV asking if I would interview for a new position. On a whim, I just said, "Let me call and see what this is about."
Here I am 13 years later at the Student Health Center and the FAST Center. I helped start the FAST Center.
What would you choose for your last meal?
I’m a foodie. My passion is cooking. I would say I would want a really, really excellent chicken panang curry. The first time I tasted it, I said I had never tasted anything so good.
What do you do outside of work?
I garden. If you were to look at my yard, you would think you weren’t living in Las Vegas. I grow bing cherries, three varieties of figs, mandarin oranges, seedless red grapes, apples, and lemons as well as a seasonal vegetable garden. Currently, I have bell peppers, Japanese eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, parsley, basil, and sage.
When I was in private practice I would be out there digging and planting trees at night with a headlamp on. My neighbors probably thought I was burying bodies.
As an avid world traveler, here are some of Biazzo's favorite destinations:
- For an exotic and off-the-grid experience, Borneo. “We lived on a makeshift boat and traveled a remote river system. We tracked orangutan for a week.”
- For culture and architecture: “Istanbul is wonderful.”
- For natural wonders: Iceland. “It’s just spectacular.”
- For someplace to live outside the United States: “It would be New Zealand. Their happiness was beyond anywhere else.”
- For family: “Every two years or so I go back to Italy to visit cousins."
In nominating him, here's what anthropology professor Liam Frink, associate professor of criminal justice Tamara Herold, and educational psychology and higher education professor Doris L. Watson had to say about Biazzo:
Dr. Biazzo embodies the spirit of this coveted award by his exemplary, innovative, and sustained level of service and dedication to our UNLV and Las Vegas communities. Dr. Biazzo is an authentic caregiver. As the senior staff physician of the SHC and the FAST Center, he provides exceptional care to students and the entire UNLV community. As any patient of Dr. Biazzo realizes immediately, he genuinely cares and invests time to listen and create a holistic framework for each person’s medical journey. Dr. Biazzo is well-known on campus for his genuine compassion and thoughtfulness and we are the beneficiaries of his remarkable approach to providing real care for our wellness and health.