A renowned heart surgeon in his native Puerto Rico reportedly recently arrived in Houston for a heart procedure, but, this time, he played the role of patient.

Dr. Raul Garcia Rinaldi began his work as a cardiac surgeon more than four decades ago, with most of those years said to be spent in Puerto Rico.

However, the devastation of Hurricane Maria and the slow recovery process throughout the island left many top-flight medical facilities short on equipment, beds and staff.

Since the hurricane, Dr. Garcia dedicated himself to rebuilding hospitals and operating rooms across the island, even at the cost of his own health.

“When you are a real doctor, you learn to put your things away and really get interested in the patients,” Dr. Garcia said in an interview with a Houston TV station. “I put my symptomology to one side. I knew it was there, but there were other more pressing things that needed to be done.”

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Dr. Garcia said he suffered from disease of the aortic valve, the piece of tissue doctors say controlling the blood flow between the heart’s main pumping chamber in the left ventricle and the primary artery sending blood from the heart to the rest of the body – the aorta.

In November, Dr. Garcia began researching procedures to treat the diseased valve.

He said he found out about a non-invasive procedure called a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, also learning one of the leading surgeons who conducted the procedure to be Dr. Tom Nguyen a cardiothoracic surgeon at Memorial Hermann HVI/UTHealth.


“I knew that being a heart surgeon in Puerto Rico with everything that was going on, I was worried that a lot of that extra stress could really complicate his situation,” Dr. Nguyen said in an interview.  “I needed the reassurance that the people who were working on me, were competent, that was very, very, very important.”

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Dr. Nguyen performed the successful procedure in December.

Just over a week later, Dr. Garcia found his way back to Puerto Rico and back in the operating suite, performing nearly 20 successful procedures since the week since his return.

“It was important to get back to doing work right away, to me that was important,” Dr. Garcia said.

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