Small Foundation, Big Impact


Noted medical researcher and pulmonologist Dr. Salim Surani gives local kids the tools they need to stay away from tobacco, to get enough sleep, to eat healthy and more at the It’s Your Life Foundation.

By: Sarah Tindall // Photos by: Dustin Ashcraft

Dr. Salim Surani is one of the world’s leading medical researchers and pulmonologists, discovering the effects of sleep on health, among many, many other topics. He holds positions as associate professor at the University of North Texas and Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, while at the same time, working as the director of critical care services at CHRISTUS Spohn Memorial Hospital and director of the TORR Sleep Centers in Beeville, Alice and Corpus Christi.

He also currently serves on several boards, including the CHEST Foundation and the Del Mar College Respiratory Care Program, and has served on the board for CHRISTUS Spohn Health System. He is an editorial board member for several medical publications, including the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders, Clinical Studies and Medical Case Report, Austin Journal of Clinical Case Report and Open Respiratory Medicine review and Current Respiratory Medicine Review, and he is also a grant reviewer for the Rannis Icelandic Research Fund (European Nation).

This sounds like enough to keep the man too busy to sleep, even after all those studies he’s done that show how important it is. But Surani feels that all of this academia is important and impactful – it is most important to take the research and knowledge he has gained and use it to make a difference in people’s lives. This is something he learned many years ago after medical school, when he went into rural Pakistan on a mission to teach the local population about disease prevention and health to improve the quality of life of the people there.

So, in 2005, enter the It’s Your Life Foundation. Surani began the organization to educate local children at a very young age about the damaging effects of smoking before they ever take that first puff. “Smoking is one of the biggest killers, and it’s preventable!” he says.

“Nicotine is the most addictive substance in the world, so once people are hooked, it is so much harder to get them to quit than to just have prevented the behavior to begin with. Data showed that people take the first puff on average as early as the fifth grade, so we wanted to reach kids before that age.”

The foundation consists of kids who have volunteered to get this message out to their peers. Middle and high school students, along with community volunteers, have spent years making videos and taking them to local schools to give presentations to 50,000 students about the dangers of smoking and give them the tools they need to stay away from tobacco.

With that program rolling, Surani decided to expand his reach and start educating kids about other issues that are negatively affecting their lives. Next on his list: sleep deprivation. “Forty to 50 percent of Americans are sleep deprived,” he says. “This starts and peaks in high school, and can negatively affect grades and mental health for these kids. We’ve started educating students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade before they are exposed to that. We released our first 3-D animation movie about the subject, and received three national academic awards, as well as two Remi awards and one Pixar Academy award for the film.”

The current project is on childhood obesity and diabetes. “The foundation always looks at the cause of a problem and where it starts,” Surani says. “South Texas is the epicenter for diabetes. Corpus Christi is the fattest city in the country, and this problem starts as young as 5 years of age, according to data. So the kids who volunteer for the foundation decided to reach kids at 3, 4 and 5 years of age to educate those kids about healthy eating and the importance of exercise to live a healthy lifestyle and stay away from these debilitating diseases.”

The middle and high school kids go to each participating school for 45 minutes once a week for four weeks. They show the video, take a chef to show them how to prepare healthy foods, do puppet shows, etc., and even hand out healthy snack as part of the program, all to get kids excited and motivated to choose healthy foods for life.

The program has been endorsed by the Junior League of Corpus Christi and the Mayor’s Fitness Council, and it received the Corpus Christi Caller Times’ Community Award in 2013. Now it’s generated interest all over the country, and its impact will continue to spread.

Next on the agenda: a program called iConquer specifically targeting diabetes. The foundation went to L to create a 3-D animation movie teaching kids 2 to 6 years of age about the disease.

With the reach for these videos and programs averaging 15,000 children a year, this is a little foundation making a big impact. The funding comes mostly from Surani and his supporters, including the Ed Rachal Foundation, the Dr. and Mrs. Hugh A. Kennedy Foundation, the Coastal Community Foundation, the Texas Medical Foundation, the LeVerene and Thomas Howell Foundation and the CITGO Helping Hands for Hillcrest program. However, the organization has never done any organized fundraising campaigns except an annual walk and golf tournament.

“We don’t even have an office or application forms, but we have reached more kids than anyone else in the state that I know of,” Surani says. “The community has been phenomenal in its support of us. Many people realize that if you spend the money on prevention, you spend less in the long run. All the credit goes to the community and the kids who have done the project. When you want to do something right, the forces of the whole universe get together to make it happen. It is beautiful, and just you don’t expect it.”

To watch the movies and/or show them to your class or group,


Fighting for Health

02/01/2015 BY SALIM SURANI

The iConquer: Diabetes program helps prepare youth to become leaders in combating diabetes.

By: Dr. Salim Surani

Running, walking, jumping, hiking, cycling, climbing and dancing: These are all integral aspects of our life. Imagine living life as an amputee. Corpus Christi is ranked No. 1 in the nation for below-knee amputation, and it ranks No. 3 in the state of Texas for death from diabetes-related complications. Although eating sweets in moderation is sometimes OK, the over consumption of sweet and saccharine foods has quickly become an integral part of our dietary culture.Approximately every 10 seconds, a person dies from diabetes-related complications; approximately 3.8 million people per year die from diabetes-related complications; and 250 million people, or approximately 6 percent of the world’s adult population, suffer from diabetes. Diabetes has become a global challenge that has reached epidemics throughout the world. In order to combat this epidemic, the United Nations recently passed a resolution to urge countries to emphasize their resources in the education, prevention and treatment of diabetes.The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is radically increasing among the U.S. population. Currently, 29.1 million people, or 9.3 percent of the U.S. population, suffer from diabetes, and 1.7 million new cases of diabetes are seen in this country every year. Diabetes is quickly becoming a household name as more and more parents and children become affected by it. Twelve point eight percent of Hispanics have diabetes, compared to 7.6 percent of Caucasians. In the United States alone, diabetes-related costs total to more than $245 billion a year. In Nueces County, the prevalence of diabetes is more than 14 percent.Type 2 diabetes has always been associated with adult population. Contrary to popular belief, incidences of Type 2 diabetes have been more common among kids and teenagers who are overweight and obese. Furthermore, approximately 8 to 45 percent of children who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.Diabetes is a preventable and treatable disease. Imagine the lives of children who have recently been diagnosed with diabetes. They are scared, frightened, worried and afraid. Early education combating diabetes not only helps educate them about prevention, but also helps alleviate and vex their fears. Efforts have been made toward early education in diabetes, especially among the high-risk adult population. Prevention efforts among children are minimal.Leslie Saloman, a young teenager is taking care of several family members who are suffering from diabetes. Her day involves checking their blood sugars, educating them about an adequate diet and ensuring compliance. She already has a few family members who are suffering from diabetes-related complications, and she has the risk factors and genetic tendency to suffer from diabetes. She is prepared, despite her several responsibilities as a child. It is all because of her self will to understand the disease, diet, prevention and importance of a regular checkup.The youth-driven iConquer: Diabetes program, including Leslie, aims to educate children from age 4 to 6 about diabetes. The middle and high school students leading the program use skits, animated movies and subliminal messages in an entertaining and palatable way. This program will help prepare the today’s children to be future leaders, and to help prevent diabetes and decrease the incidence of this deadly disease.This early education program will help young children conquer future challenges with more confidence.For details or to download the free copy of the animated movie, “iConquer: Diabetes,” in English or Spanish, visit or


The youth-driven iConquer program combats the biggest health threat among our children.

By: Dr. Salim Surani

Passion, energy, dedication, devotion, discipline, cultivation, excitement and joy: This is how I would describe the program, iConquer, a youth-driven program whose mission is to combat obesity and diabetes, and to create a healthy and happy nation and healthy and happy communities.With the New Year approaching, we all make ambitious goals and attempt to transform our own lives. Is it the time for us to teach our children by setting an example with our actions. Obesity has been labeled one of the biggest threats in South Texas. More than 33 percent of children and adolescents in this country are obese. Obesity has doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents over past three decades. One in three Texas children is overweight or obese, and almost 50 percent of Hispanic children in Texas fall in this category. In Texas, Hispanic children have the highest rate of obesity.Obesity has grave consequences for the person, the family and society. Its consequences are severe; it can decrease the life expectancy of our future generation, with increases in the risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, joint problems and sleep disorders, to name a few. Children with asthma and obesity have a 29 percent higher rate of hospitalization. In addition, children who are obese have lower grades and a higher frequency of absence from school.Studies have shown that the pre-kindergarten age is critical, as that is when habits are formed. Children who are obese at 3 to 5 years old are eight times more likely to be obese in adulthood compared to children who weigh within the normal range. It is imperative that education on combating childhood obesity and improving health habits is engrained at an early life, and parents and peers need to serve as role models. Most of the current programs are geared toward middle and high school, which is important, but early childhood education on this important issue is lacking.The iConquer program is unique and youth-driven in its efforts to combat childhood obesity and promote healthy living at a very early age. This program has been designed and run by the youth of our community. They reach out to children from the early childhood development stage to first grade. They use a unique, four-week program encompassing four 45-minute sessions, as well as a high-tech audience response system to gauge their knowledge. During each session, they use an array of engaging, age-specific activities, such as animated movies (written and scripted by community youth), puppet shows, hip-hop sessions and exercise routines.The emphasis is also on healthy food, as they promote kid-friendly portions and feature youth and professional chefs demonstrating the preparation of healthy snacks. The concept is unique; the youth serves as mentors and role models for children in addition to their parents and siblings. Getting parents involved in these activities is the new goal for this club.Developing healthy habits at an early age will help us have a healthy generation, and prevent numerous health-related costs and consequences later in the lives of our children. Since these children are the leaders of the next generation, let’s transform our lives for the healthier and conquer diabetes, obesity and chronic illness.For further details about the iConquer program, to see the community youth in action or to download animated movies or fitness songs, please visit

Local Sisters Teach Other Kids About Healthy Habits

Posted: Dec 23, 2014 9:13 AM CST
Updated: Dec 23, 2014 9:13 AM CST
CORPUS CHRISTI (Kiii News) – Three Coastal Bend sisters are targeting their younger peers in their latest video project. The mission of their iConquer project is to shape children’s habits in order to reduce the risks of diabetes and obesity.


5K ‘It’s Your Life’ Walk For Healthy Living Choices

Posted: Apr 20, 2013 10:40 PM
Updated: Apr 20, 2013 10:40 PM

CORPUS CHRISTI – Today was the third annual “It’s Your Life” walk at Heritage Park. Doctors at the 5K walk say it’s important to stay active and make healthy living choices earlier on in life. The “It’s Your Life” foundation tries to help young people make good lifestyle choices but they say that’s a lot easier said than done.

Dr. Salim Surani, Pulmonologist said, “When I was a kid I loved the candies and now I’m realizing I got a habit of eating those foods and not exercising. So we want to make sure, the newer generation, we’re creating health habits.” Dr. Surani says obesity is a growing epidemic here in the Coastal Bend and that’s why he says making walking a habit is a good choice.

Children Educating community regarding hazards of smoking and the video song “Addicted” to combat and educate children against hazards of smoking in hip-hop music style.

Contributed photo The Surani family of Corpus Christi works together to help youths with public health issues. Most recently their It’s Your Life Foundation has won awards for a 3-D animated film they plan to use to help teens understand the risks of sleep deprivation. From left are: Zoya Surani, Saherish Surani, Salim Surani, Zehra Surani and Sara Surani.


In battle against chronic disease, Mayor’s Fitness Council designates first healthy event

CORPUS CHRISTI — In ongoing efforts to battle chronic disease in Corpus Christi, the Mayor’s Fitness Council designated its first healthy event, the It’s Your Life Foundation 5K Walk and Run, which met the council’s stringent criteria.

As part of its changing strategy to shed the city’s Fattest City label and make the city a healthier place to live, the fitness council earlier this year announced incentives to improve health and wellness, including waiving park rental fees for up to three events per year that meet strict requirements: Smoking must be banned, unhealthy foods are prohibited, and participants must be offered healthy eating tips.

Proceeds raised by the 5K will go toward promoting the foundation’s two initiatives, an anti-tobacco program that educates children about the hazards of tobacco, and a program to combat childhood obesity.

The 5K will be held 7:45 a.m. April 26 at Cole Park. Entry is free for children ages 4 to 17 and $30 for adults.



Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times Zoya Surani, 13 (left), and Leslie Salomon, 16, presenters of the iConquer Chews Wisely dance with students at Yeager Elementary School in October during a presentation. Students from Carroll High School and Baker Middle School use puppets, songs and food tastings as teaching tools for healthy eating habits to curb obesity and diabetes.

CORPUS CHRISTI — A group of middle and high school students are helping kids fight off bad eating habits taking the message of healthy eating into elementary schools.

Yeager Elementary kindergartners recently learned about better eating habits and diabetes risks through theiConquer: Chews Wisely program, which is funded solely by a parent of some group members.

Students from Carroll High School and Baker Middle School use puppets, songs and food tastings as teaching tools. The group of girls, in which three are sisters, also associate their first names with fruits or vegetables so their monikers can resonate with the younger students.

Many kindergartners first considered candy a healthy food option at the start of the program, which began in schools this year as part of the nonprofit organization It’s Your Life Foundation.

“They didn’t know it was bad for them,” said Sara Surani, a Carroll senior who is part of the program’s team.

That changed by the third meeting.

“What leads to diabetes?” group members asked the 41 kindergartners in October as they gathered in the school cafeteria.

“Candy!” students yelled in unison.

The program also emphasizes the importance of students exercising and eating fruit and vegetables to make strides in preventing diabetes.

Celestine Barnes, 5, said she tried carrots for the first time during an October visit.

“They were healthy,” she said after clearing her plate, which also had other foods, such as grapes, apple slices and cheese cubes.

Group members said they rely on the fact that students are at an age where they absorb information quickly and maybe they will share what they learn with their families.


Yeager Elementary School Presentation

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times Yeager Elementary School kindergarten students Emylei Head (left) and Dalena Dunn, both 5, try a healthy snack of a cracker, cheese, grape and carrot during an iConquer Chews Wisely presentation by Corpus Christi Independent School District students in October.

“It really makes a difference to know that we inspired one kid,” said Saherish Surani, a Carroll freshman and Sara Surani’s sister.

The program also inspired one of its own members, Leslie Salomon, who plays an active role in her family’s health.

Her 13-year-old brother, Jacob, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 3 years old, and she has a grandmother diagnosed with Type 2. Salomon used to be a key caregiver for her grandmother.

Salomon, a 17-year-old Carroll junior, buys the groceries for her immediate family and often opts for healthier foods, such as lean chicken and greens.

She said her family started cutting meal portion sizes and eating healthier after her brother’s Type 1 diagnosis.

Salomon, who often helps her brother count carbohydrates, said childhood diabetes affects the whole family.

“It’s basically, like, a parasite,” she said. “It takes over everything.”

Salomon’s father, Ray, 37, said he has relatives with Type 2 diabetes who have vision problems, limb amputations and loss of teeth as a result of the disease.

“It’s kind of bad,” he said, adding he makes sure his children routinely get screened for risk factors.

He said a family has to work together to stay active and eat healthier.

“It’s a team effort, he said, “on everyone’s part.”


Surani Trio

Channel 3 Metv kiii Corpus Christi; Surani trio talking about healthy community and diabetes prevention
Channel 3 Metv kiii Corpus Christi; Surani trio talking about healthy community and diabetes prevention