Dr. Juan Padilla — Man of Medicine, Man of Faith
By: Cori Smelker
When you ask a youngster what they want to be when they grow up, you often hear, “A fireman, a policeman, a doctor!” But how many children go on to follow those dreams? Dr. Juan Padilla is one of those rare people who knew from a young age what his ‘calling’ was. He sees his role of doctor as far more than just a job or even a career. He sees it as God’s will and destiny for his life. “Economically, it is not as profitable to be a doctor today as it used to be,” Dr. Padilla says. “In order to be a good doctor, you’d better know it is your calling.”
Dr. Padilla, a neurosurgeon with 15 years of practice under his belt, never grows tired of his job, although some days are harder than others. His specialty deals with patients who are either in a coma or have received the diagnosis of brain death.
He explains what the difference between the two terms are, as some people are prone to mix them up. “Brain death,” he explains. “Is a terminal status. There is no further possibility of survival.” There are several steps the doctors take to reach that diagnosis. First off, they ensure there are no sedatives or paralytic drugs in the patient’s system, and the patient’s temperature is above a certain point. Two primary care physicians can make the diagnosis, although there are times when a neurosurgeon, an ICU doctor or neuroscience specialist is called in too.
“This is a diagnosis, this is not a condition,” Padilla says. Some families think that someone who is brain dead can recover, but that is not the case. “It is very hard for them to understand,” Padilla says, compassion filling his voice. “I think in our Hispanic culture we value family so highly, and we want to keep them with us all the time, but we cannot.”
Some families have time to prepare for the diagnosis, especially if the patient has been ill for a while. It is different though, if the diagnosis is as a result of some kind of head trauma. “We give the news as best we can,” Padilla says. “I always try to leave a word of comfort. I tell them that their loved one is in God’s hands now. All I can do is give a word of encouragement and leave.”
After the family has had some time to process the outcome, a team of specialists will talk to them about the possibility of organ donation, if the patient’s wishes were not known ahead of time. “Of course, they try and paint organ donation in a positive light. Their loved one may not have lived, but he or she can perhaps help someone else’s loved one live.”
Coma, Padilla says, is different from brain death. A coma is a condition, and can be measured using the Glasgow Coma Scale. The higher the number (up to 15), the better the chances that a patient will recover. Once a patient gets down to 3, they are in that area where they could be facing brain death. “That is one of the hardest things for the families to face,” Padilla says. “A patient might be in a coma, and right on that cusp. It’s those conversations that are the hardest to have,” he confesses.
The hardest conversations of all however, are those that take place after surgery. Many families believe, despite what they have been told, that surgery will magically restore their family member back to normal. And there are times when surgery makes no difference, and there is no improvement. “They look at you and ask ‘why?’” Padilla again turns to God’s Word to find comfort and to try and bring comfort to the families.
Padilla’s Christian faith means everything to him, and it is during a tough day, when he has had to give unwelcome news, that he turns to the Lord and looks for solace and peace in the Holy Spirit. “I am a Christian doctor, which means that everything I do has to be seen through the light of my life as a Christian. Every decision I make is made with that knowledge in my mind, that I am a Christian and that I serve the Lord first and foremost.”
Dr. Padilla takes his calling as a doctor very seriously, and he undertakes mission trips whenever he can. He has traveled to Russia, Haiti, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic as a medical missionary. In Russia, the team focused solely on neurosurgery, but in the other countries they did many other surgeries too, including orthopedics. They perform gynecological exams, urology and other services whilst they are there. Dr. Padilla sees it as a way to see Gods Hand and Love working. The organization he is with also sponsors and awards scholarships to local doctors to travel with the organization to other countries.
With 15 years of practice under his belt, and an international flavor to his practice, Dr. Padilla is definitely a neurosurgeon you want to have on your side if you ever have need of one.
Dr. Juan Padilla
1200 E Savannah Ave #3
McAllen, TX 78503