Heart Surgeon Changes Careers

A lot of people change jobs and even careers in mid-life, but a well known Houston heart surgeon is making a career change that will probably be written about in the history books of his native country -- Guatemala. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell explains.

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At the age of 63, cardiovascular surgeon Rafael Espada of Baylor College of Medicine and the Methodist-DeBakey Heart Center is hanging up his smock and stethoscope to go back to his home country and run for Vice-President. Dr. Espada says he's always kept up with Guatemala politics, and now he's been offered a chance to get directly involved and he's taking it.

"The opportunity came to me from Guatemala to participate in the event that will happen this year in Guatemala, for the Presidency and Vice Presidency. One of the candidates for President talked to me about six months ago. We looked at the possibilities and we thought it was right for me, it was the right time."

Espada got his medical degree in the 1960s and trained for heart surgery at Baylor College of Medicine under Doctor Michael DeBakey. He went on to make a name for himself with important innovations in heart surgery, including an open heart procedure that was portrayed in the TV drama Grey's Anatomy, on which Espada served as a technical advisor.

Espada has also given back to Guatemala. He helped start that country's first cardiac hospital, and mediated a strike between the government and the nation's medical personnel. As for why he's giving up his medical practice at this point in his life, Espada says it's time.

"There's a point that you're at the top of your career, and that's when you should move to another career. I've always believed in a second career in life, and to keep your brain and everything stimulated. I think at this point I've reached the top of my career and the top of my life as a surgeon. I think it's the right time to do something bigger."

Espada says his own health is good, and if he and his running mate are elected this fall, there are plenty of things he wants to do.

"Looking at the problems in Guatemala right now, I think the solutions will be education, developing health and education, combined together, and the third one will be international relationships so we can have investments in our country."

Doctor Espada says he wants to work with Presidential front-runner Alvaro Colom in building a society in which people of all income levels can get an education, and a national economy that creates jobs that will keep Guatemalans at home, not immigrating out to other countries, legally and illegally. He also wants to encourage other Guatemalans who've "made it" in the United States to follow his lead, and come home to help their country rise above its history as a poverty ridden third world country. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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