February 26, 2019
Remembering a photo of a 70-year-old gentleman in a winter coat, surrounded by snow and the American flag, will always be a source of pride for Dr. Luis Garcia, a former bariatric surgeon at Sanford Medical Center Fargo who is now president of governance and strategy for Sanford Clinic serving all clinics of Sanford Health.
The gentleman, a patient who had suffered from congestive heart failure because of obesity, had faced a future heart transplant. He shared the photo during a follow-up appointment two years after weight loss surgery.
“He said, ‘Guess where I’m at,’” Dr. Garcia recalled.
The man was on the summit of Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world; a journey he made alongside his daughter and an accomplishment made possible because of Dr. Garcia and his team.
“His heart improved so much following surgery that he didn’t need the transplant,” Dr. Garcia said. “These types of stories are why I am so proud of the work of everybody in the bariatric surgery department and all the support they give the patients.”
Personal values and passion
Dr. Garcia’s passion for health care developed from childhood in Mexico City.
“My mom and dad always made a point that we were no better than anybody else,” he said. “I learned what gives you status is who you are as a person. That’s how I was raised.”
Dr. Garcia moved to Fargo in 1996 to complete his medical residency at the University of North Dakota. Though a culture shock, he grew to appreciate the state and discovered he was surrounded by people who shared the values ingrained in him from childhood. It helped lead him to an unexpected decision.
“Because of the people, safety and quality of life in North Dakota, and then a tremendous job offered to me at Sanford, I decided to stay,” he said.
Specializing in bariatrics, and becoming so passionate about the field, was unexpected as well.
“I had absolutely no interest in it at first, but that changed as I evolved as a surgeon,” he said. “As a physician, one of the pillars is to help people in need, and the problem of obesity has become one of the largest epidemics in the world.”
Obesity impacts every single aspect of our society, Dr. Garcia said, also noting that obesity is linked to many of the conditions doctors fight every day, including hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
“If there is any population in need, it is the obese population,” he said. “Sadly, the care of the obese patient has been heavily underfunded and unrecognized. So I saw a calling.”
Teamwork and giving back
Though his role at Sanford Health has changed, Dr. Garcia still feels deeply connected to the bariatric surgery department team in Fargo. Not only did they make it possible for him to devote his full attention and expert care to his patients, they worked with him to develop a revolutionary whole person weight loss approach for their patients, with access to counselors, dieticians, support groups and more.
“You can’t have that kind of success without all the support staff working behind the scenes,” he said.
Their dedication inspired Dr. Garcia and his wife, Greta, to create the Dr. Luis and Greta Garcia Endowment for Bariatric Surgery. The fund will provide ongoing educational opportunities for the bariatric surgery department staff which will, in turn, benefit bariatric patients far into the future.
“Part of my intention is to elevate the work each of them does every single day to change lives,” he said. “I want to leave a legacy for the work they do.”
Dr. Garcia is proud to give back through the Sanford Health Foundation and recognize his former colleagues, especially after experiencing firsthand how Sanford Health’s leadership goes above and beyond to create a positive and encouraging environment for its employees.
“We believe we are a family,” Dr. Garcia said. “We treat each other right.”
There are so many ways to provide hope and healing at Sanford Health. To discuss the area of health care you’re most passionate about and to find a philanthropic opportunity that’s right for you, contact the Sanford Health Foundation Fargo at (701) 234-6246.