Garza inducted into Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame
It's been 23 years since Dr. Jaime Garza gave up catching passes, blowing past defensive backs and spiking the ball in the end zone. It's been 23 years since two-a-days at training camp and possible stardom in the National Football League. But the discipline Dr. Garza learned on the football field has never left him. The will to win — to excel — has helped him become one of the nation's great plastic and reconstructive surgeons.
Today he is a practicing surgeon and the associate vice president for South Texas programs at the Health Science Center.
"Perseverance is one of the key ingredients for success in life, and in my case it has applied to both medicine and the gridiron," said Dr. Garza, who starred at Jefferson High School and Tulane University. "Without question, football helped prepare me for the long days in the operating room and all the rigorous courses of study."
Recognizing his achievements on the field, the National Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame elected Dr. Garza to its membership this fall. The San Antonio Independent School District recognized him at its November board meeting as an outstanding graduate and role model for area youth.
He began his career as a defensive back, but switched to the other side of the ball because of an injury. He was an All-City wide receiver for the Jefferson Mustangs in 1972 and went on to break almost all of the receiving records at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he attended on an athletic scholarship from 1972 to 1976. He later attended training camps with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
According to his National Hispanic Sports Hall of Fame biosketch, Dr. Garza was one of the first freshmen in the nation to start a varsity game, was a team captain, was named to the All-South and All-Louisiana teams, was named one of the "Best College Football Players in America" and in 1993 was inducted into the Tulane Athletic Hall of Fame. At his induction to the Hall of Fame, he was described as the "consummate student-athlete."
But the high school injury in 1971 had helped place football in perspective for the young man. He learned that football was a vehicle to college and a career. Today he brings the same message of opportunity to young people who aspire to health and science careers — the opportunity is there, in some form, if you just reach out and take it.
"My junior year I suffered a pretty severe head injury as a defensive back," Dr. Garza said. "It was potentially career ending. My coach, Ron Thompson, talked to my parents and suggested I try out for wide receiver because there was less chance of injury. I was determined to play because I saw football as a way to college. Ron was a tremendous coach, mentor and motivator, and a good friend."
By 1978 Dr. Garza was at the crossroads. Should he continue in the NFL or should he look ahead to his interest in health care? In 1979, he was accepted into the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, where he received his D.D.S. degree. His commitment and discipline carried him through the LSU Medical School, as well, to the M.D. degree in 1987.
After completing his residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, he was recruited to the Health Science Center in 1994 to develop a training program in plastic and reconstructive surgery. After an accreditation site visit last May to review his program, he achieved that objective. Soon after, Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, president, asked him to assume his South Texas duties as associate vice president.
Dr. Garza has continued his involvement in sports during his medical career. He was appointed as a tournament physician for several NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournaments, the 1992 Olympic Trials and other events. He is a member of the NFL Super Bowl Host Committee for the 2002 game and a team physician for UTSA.
Dr. J. William Futrell, former chair of plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and a former football player at Duke University, saw the potential for greatness in Dr. Garza. "He took me under his wing and taught me about leadership," Dr. Garza said. "He taught me how to motivate others and how to recruit great talent to a team. These principles helped us build the plastic surgery program at the Health Science Center. After seven years, we have achieved a nationally accredited plastic surgery residency training program. Today's younger faculty and youth coming through the ranks need the same kind of caring mentorship."