“Walking two or three miles a day can decrease the risk of heart disease and heart attacks significantly,”  Juan Joel Garza, M.D., Interventional Cardiologist

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

As originally published by Mega Doctor News in its newsprint edition July 2017

Juan Joel Garza, M.D., is an Interventional Cardiologist affiliated with the South Heart Clinics in both the cities of Harlingen and Weslaco.  Recently, he was appointed Chief Medical Officer at the award-winning and nationally recognized Harlingen Medical Center, which has an affiliation with Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco.  And, he is on a mission to save people’s lives by doing what he does best as an Interventional Cardiologist and educator.

Dr. Garza, who is a Rio Grande Valley native, graduated from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) High School in Pharr.  He pursued undergraduate studies at Texas A&M University in College Station and pursued medical school at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.  He followed up his studies with an Internal Medicine Residency and Cardiology Fellowship at Scott & White Health in Temple, Texas.

“When I returned to the Valley in 2004 I joined the outstanding Cardiologists’ at the South Heart Clinics in Harlingen,” said Dr. Garza.  “And, coming home to the Valley seemed like the right thing to do.  My wife is from Raymondville and I’m from Pharr.  We both have lots of family here.”

In addition to having family here, Dr. Garza enjoys hunting and fishing, and, South Texas offers some good hunting and fishing.

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Dr. Garza, and his wife Xenia, decided to make the City of Weslaco home.  The two built a home in the Mid-Valley giving him quick access to both his medical practices (South Heart Clinic) and both hospitals at which he practices (HMC and KMC).  He is committed to his patients and recognizes the growth in healthcare needs – and even more so, the needs of his patients.

One Day as an Interventional Cardiologist

Dr. Garza usually starts his day with a cup of coffee in hand.  He takes his children to school as often as he can, during the school year, and then begins to look forward to his day taking care of his patients.  He normally makes clinical rounds at the hospital(s) seeing his patients – making sure they are doing okay – while getting others ready to go home.

Once he completes visiting his patients he goes to his medical practice and works “clinic” between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  And, in one day he can see as many as two-dozen patients, which makes for a very busy day.  He also employs Christopher Lamotte as his Physician Assistant (PA) to help him care for his patients, which has made some things a bit easier – like being able to take a moment to offer an interview to Mega Doctor News!

Dr. Garza, as most physicians do, runs a tight schedule.  In addition to seeing his patients at either one of his clinics – he is also “on-call” duty at one of the hospitals which he is affiliated with.  “On-call” duty is scheduled at least once a week in any given hospital.  Through the busy schedule, he focuses on caring for his clinic patients, performing procedures in the Catheterization Laboratory, and consulting with his patients in the hospital(s).

“My job as an Interventional Cardiologist is to open up blood vessels that are blocked with calcium or plaque build-up,” said Dr. Garza.  “We open up blood vessels leading to the heart, in the legs, and/or in the arms.  We help patients with the treatments that we do.”

He added that some of the Cardiologists’ in his group (South Heart Clinic) also open neck arteries and perform stent procedures.  Their line of work is specialized for those who suffer from heart disease or have chest pain that is caused by blocked arteries.

The experience that Dr. Garza has acquired through his years of training and practice comes as his most valuable tool to evaluate a patient’s heart condition.  According to Dr. Garza, depending on the situation, if they cannot treat a patient medically, or, because of failed medical treatment for heart blockage, then, sometimes the patient may require other procedures to open the blocked arteries.

“What we, as Cardiologists’, do are very delicate procedures, because they have very real risks’,” said Dr. Garza.  “In all that we do, we must be precise.  So, in a sense, you have someone’s life in your hands during those procedures because complications can take place if you’re careless or if you’re not paying attention.”

Dr. Garza acknowledges that compared to 20-years ago, unblocking arteries today is met with experience and with some of the most advanced technology.  Patients are even awake when they are undergoing a Cath Lab procedures.  Patients are having conversations with the physician performing the procedure.  There are some instances in where the patient is nervous and so they request to be consciously sedated.

Mega Doctor News: What causes blockages in the arteries?

“There are a variety of things that can cause this, but, a major factor is old age,” said Dr. Garza.  “As we get older, hardening of the arteries and plaque development begins to occur.  It’s part of the aging process.  There are some prescribed medications that can help halt that hardening process, but, there are some medications that may cause regression.  People can also help themselves.  They can control their cholesterol and blood sugars.  They can do so by eating healthier and exercising.  There are other risk factors that may contribute to hardening of the arteries, like smoking, hypertension, Type II Diabetes, and, family history.” Dr. Garza emphasized that if it is in the genes, then, he or she is at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

“All those things I mentioned are important to monitor, but, genetics is one of the most important risk factors,” said Dr. Garza.  “My father had a stent placed when he was 62-years old, so with that, I make sure to check my cholesterol on an annual basis.”

Mega Doctor News: What about physical exercise?

“As I mentioned before, exercise is underutilized and if you look at any of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) guidelines and recommendations, physical activity is always on top of the list.  Diet and exercise are very important,” said Dr. Garza.  “Those are things are how you make an impact on your health.”

Dr. Garza added that he verbalizes, to his patients’, the importance of physical activity.  Simple walking, it can do wonders for their health.  Walk 45-minutes a day.  There is not a required necessity to lift weights or run – walking can do really well for a person’s health.  Two or three miles a day may help decrease the risk of heart disease and a heart attack significantly.  He is of the idea that if people are a little heavy, but, walk more than three times a week, then, they should be doing okay.

Mega Doctor News: What is it that you find the most challenging in your profession?

“Trying to make patients understand that they themselves have a major impact on their health.  They have their health status in their hands,” said Dr. Garza.

Mega Doctor News: Who inspired you to become a doctor?

“My dad is a pharmacist and being around his pharmacy growing up – it sparked an interest in medicine for me,” said Dr. Garza.  “I also have a cousin that is a pediatrician.  Seeing him at the age of 9 or 10, I started to envision that one day I too would become a doctor.”

Dr. Garza’s father, Ruben Garza, is originally from San Juan, Texas, and today he is 81 years of age.  He owned co-owned Pharr Drug Store, in Pharr, right off of Cage Boulevard and Main Street, with business partner Romeo Escobar.  The elder Garza now is employed with “Su Clínica Familiar,” a non-profit medical clinic serving the communities of South Texas.

Dr. Garza’s wife, Xenia, is a Speech Therapist by trade and recently earned a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.  She now helps him administer his medical practice.

When asked about how they met – he recalled meeting the “sister of my good friend.”  They met in Dallas where he was about to take an interview with a Residency program in North Texas.  It was Christmas break and he simply could not get her out of his mind.  Three years after meeting – they married.

Dr. Garza and his wife, Xenia, have four children: one son and three daughters.  Aaron is 17, a future veterinarian; Xayda is 14, probably following in her dad’s footsteps; Jiada is 11; and, the youngest is Xienna, she’s 8-years old.

Dr. Garza is a member, and fellow, respectively of the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association.  He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, with a specialty in Interventional Cardiology, and has more than a decade of clinical experience in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease, a leading service line for Harlingen Medical Center.

Dr. Garza’s teaching appointments include: Clinical Assistant Professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center – Regional Academic Health Center – Harlingen; and, Faculty-Assistant Clinical Professor Department of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center – Regional Academic Health Center – Harlingen and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Juan Joel Garza, please contact his medical practice, The South Heart Clinic – Harlingen, at (956) 428-5522, located at 2310 N. Ed Carey Drive, Suite 1A, Harlingen, Texas 78550.  And, The South Heart Clinic – Weslaco, at (956) 969-1222, located at 902 S. Airport Drive, Weslaco, Texas 78596.