After more than 30 years of practicing medicine in Houston, heart surgeon Rafael Espada has returned to his native Guatemala in a big wayas the nations newly elected vice president.
The 63-year-old Espada became the first physician to hold that office in Guatemala after he and President-elect Alvaro Colom earned 53% of the vote in the Central American countrys Nov. 4 presidential election. Espada, who earned his medical degree at the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala City, trained under the noted heart surgeon Michael DeBakey and served most recently as deputy chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Methodist Hospitals DeBakey Heart Center. While he practiced there, he maintained a relationship with his home country and established Unidad Cardiovascular, Guatemalas first cardiac hospital. Espada says he became interested in politics when he was an exchange student more than 40 years ago.
In 1965, I met Robert Kennedy. He influenced my political life, Espada says. There was an exchange program for Latin American studentsLatin American Alliance for Progress. They sent three or four students a year to the U.S. I was lucky enough that they sent me to Congress, he says, as an intern in Kennedys office.
Now in Guatemala, Espada will continue to maintain a connection with the U.S., both professionallyin his official capacity and as an honorary staff member at the DeBakey Heart Centerand personally, as he has a daughter in Los Angeles, where she works as a writer on the CBS situation comedy Two and a Half Men.
The new administration, which takes office in January, plans to change the whole structure of healthcare in Guatemala, according to Espada, who says 53% of the countrys children are malnourished, and 56% of the population is poor.