SUNNYSIDE — For Dr. Ana Garcia-Colazo, inspiration is a feeling.
“Of making a difference and trying your best to make that difference and making it really matter,” she explained. “And trying to be the best human being that I can be.”
The 38-year-old speaks succinctly — as if every word is deliberately chosen — and when her version of the best possible explanatory phrase doesn’t immediately rise to her tongue, she takes a moment before continuing to speak. There’s something about the way she communicates that’s equally soothing and intriguing, drawing the ear a little closer. If there’s such a thing as perfect volume and cadence, this woman’s definitely got it.
And considering what she does for a living — a pediatrician at Astria Health Center in Sunnyside — it kind of makes perfect sense.
“I was brought up in a very loving home with very caring parents,” she said. “Studies were an integral part of my raising. And I played the piano, so music and studying were the two main things in my life.”
An only child, she was born and raised in Puerto Rico.
Her parents — Gloria and Antonio — supported her drive from a very early age. Watching their daughter’s success fills them with extreme pride, but she said they’re not really surprised.
“They say they always knew I was going to be able to achieve this if I put my heart and mind into it,” she explained.
Her decision to pursue a career in medicine came while attending high school. But she didn’t know it would be pediatrics until she began working with children as part of her medical education.
“I had said it definitely would not be,” Garcia-Colazo said with a laugh. “But then I rotated and I fell in love with the kids. They’re so smart, imaginative — their innocence is just overwhelmingly interesting as they’re becoming adults, and being part of that fulfills me.”
Her parents were the very first people she looked up to.
But she credits two uncles — both pediatricians — whose work had tremendous impact on the trajectory of her journey toward a career in medicine.
“What they did had influence,” she said. “I would ask them questions and they were very excited. I found it incredibly nice to just keep a tradition in the family, and they were pretty happy when I chose pediatrics.”
A multitude of college professors also helped tremendously as she worked to get everything in order for medical school.
And then there was her residency.
“Everything surrounding me was a really powerful learning experience,” she said of her time at the huge hospital that got all types of cases from all over the Caribbean.
She remained in Puerto Rico all the way through to pediatric residency, but of the 10 stateside interviews that followed, only the one in Sunnyside really clicked.
“I understood what they needed and what they were looking for,” she said. “My husband and I thought this was really the right place to be.”
The transition — which could have been different if not for her husband, Carlos, and stepson, Yean — was more about adapting to things that were different in Puerto Rico.
Professionally, she gives credit for her success to one person in particular, Dr. Ann Nealen, a longtime Yakima Valley pediatrician who recently retired.
More than a great doctor and caregiver, Nealen is all-around the kind of person Garcia-Colazo wants to be.
“She did a practice on her own for so many years,” she explained. “I learned so much — how to manage a practice and manage life in between the hospital, home and the office. She’s the one I started working with, who helped with all the changes. It’s very different from life on the island.”
But adapted she has, now citing one thing more than ever as reason for her personal drive.
“The children,” she said. “Everything that has to do with them and them being OK and their well-being. They’re our future, so we have to treat them and nurture them and love them so they will do the same.”
That’s one of the reasons she said she remains ready when the hospital needs her to do education in local schools or to speak on the radio for an interview.
“If I can help in any type of anything, I try to do that,” she said.
For her, there’s also something about seeing happiness in the lives of families outside the examination room. Of particular note for her is the hospital-organized Trunk or Treat, an event in Sunnyside where her heart is warmed watching parents and their children.
“I love seeing them happy,” she gushed with that natural, true humanity most adults don’t get to see from care providers, let alone feel. “They get to wear their costumes and it’s a very safe way of ensuring they’re going to have a very safe time and the candies are safe for them to eat.”
When she has time, Garcia-Colazo is something of a voracious reader, and she wishes everyone — especially youths — spent more time reading instead of playing on their smartphones.
There’s enjoyment to be had from the pages in a book — her all-time favorite, for example, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.”
“First of all, I absolutely adore the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes — he just grabs you,” she explained, noting his easy-to-read style and exquisite use of language.
Another Marquez book — “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” — comes in second in her list of favorites, which also includes titles from Dan Brown like “The Da Vinci Code,” the works of Stephen King and young adult series similar to Percy Jackson.
Although she finds merit in reading — no matter what the subject matter — she said it was through another medium that she found relatable and relevant as they continue resonating with her today.
“There are two movies I remember watching,” she began. “One of them is ‘Doc Hollywood’ — that movie is actually something that really grabbed my attention. It looked very much like what I wanted to do — going to a small, rural town and falling in love.”
And then there’s the film she’s particularly fond of — its subject matter being particularly relevant for those working in her field.
“The other is ‘The Doctor’ with William Hurt — that’s exactly something every single physician needs to see.”
The film — about a somewhat arrogant, unlikable physician who finds himself dealing with doctors who lack compassion for their patients — is one she said should remind caregivers to put themselves in their patient’s place to see what’s truly going on.
“We have to understand: When people come to the office, they’re sick,” she said. “You have to be a little empathic towards that or you’re not going to listen to what’s going on. What they’re telling you is important, so it has to be important for you.”
It appears Garcia-Colazo has achieved nearly every goal she’s set for herself so far.
Even her success is apparent by the way she defines it.
“It’s waking up in the morning and knowing you’re making a difference and feeling blessed about it — being happy about what you do,” she said.
But there’s something key she eventually points out — it may even be the secret to achieving the Ana Garcia-Colazo brand of passionate bliss.
“The little things are the things that really matter,” she said emphatically. “Not the money or the material things.”
It’s how she’s able to strive for excellence, keep herself from losing focus and maintain something that just might be true happiness on Earth.
“Really,” she reiterated. “Experiences are the only things we take with us. We don’t take anything else, so always try to make your life matter.”