Rivera with a volunteer cardiac catheterization team in El Salvador
What drew you to the medical field?
As a kid growing up in Puerto Rico, I was fascinated with the military. I joined the army right after high school and served for six years, four of those stationed at Ft. Devens. I was a medic, and became interested in health care through that experience.
I went to college after I fulfilled my six year commitment and double majored in biology and exercise physiology. After college, I got my first position at Boston Children’s and found the team environment I loved about the army alive and well here too.
Everyone’s job in this place is critical — from housekeeping to cardiac surgery. It takes a whole team, and I really feel like I’m making a difference.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Working with kids. I worked with adults for four years, and many of those patients needed cardiac care because they’d made poor lifestyle choices. Kids are innocent bystanders in that they were born with these conditions; they never asked for them.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My job is split evenly between working in the cath lab rooms and administrative duties.
I am responsible for making sure the cath lab equipment is working, staffing is adequate, and normal daily operations run smoothly. We have lots of new equipment and just replaced three older cameras with new models.
With the new equipment, patients are exposed to less radiation and procedures take less time. ASD closure used to take four hours- now it can be done in less than two.
What else has changed since you started in 2003?
We're doing more cases than ever before, and increasingly complex cases because of the technology. For example, now we can implant a pulmonary valve (melody valve) with a catheter instead of an open heart operation.
What might people not know about you?
This big guy has a big heart! Every year I go to El Salvador and do procedures out there with Dr. Porras. I’ve been going since 2008, and after that first trip I was hooked. I don’t think money should come between sick kids and getting the best possible treatment. So every year I take one week and pay it forward. The work we do is a collaborative effort between Heart Care International and Sana mi Corazon (Heal my Heart).
We do cases all day for 6 days, and it’s extremely rewarding. Everyone should, at least once, go abroad and help another community. It puts your life in perspective
I happen to know that’s not the only way you volunteer…
Yes, I also go to Pacemaker/ICD Camp! I see kids here at the hospital when they’re in their worst condition. To see them being kids, to know that you were part of it— that’s an incredible feeling. The boys talk about their surgical scars like battle scars! It reminds me of my army days.
I bring my daughters to the camp, too, and it’s a great learning experience for them. My daughter came home after her first time at camp and wanted to know everything about pacemakers. The kids are learning about one another and understand that all kids can do camp activities.