I grew up in Oxnard, CA, which is, mostly, an agricultural area just north of Malibu on the coast. I walked past strawberry fields every day on my way to Oxnard High School. My grandmother worked as a field worker when she first came to the US from Mexico as a teenager, so I guess strawberry fields have always made me think of her.
After watching a bit too much anime, around the age of 12, I decided that I wanted to be a Bioengineer. For some reason I thought bioengineering meant making monsters and clones. Blame Dolly the sheep. I eventually attended UC San Diego's Bioengineering program, which had fairly rigorous selection criteria as they only admitted students into the major straight out of high school, so it was good that I was set on the idea so young. In college, I played drum kit in the pep band, worked as an office assistant in the music department, worked as a resident advisor in the dorms, and was manager of the on-campus radio station KSDT. Undergrad was a wild time. I graduated around the 2008/2009 economic collapse, which I meant I worked odd jobs bussing tables and working at a tire shop until I landed a job in medical research nearly a year after graduating. I didn't want to be a physician back then, and research allowed me to do something interesting and speak Spanish, as most of the patients I was working with were predominantly Spanish speaking.
Working as a research coordinator was fun but, I eventually quit my job to go on tour playing drums in a rock band. After that, I decided to make the move to NYC, and started freelancing for NYU Langone Health through a connection I made playing music. Basically I fell into my current line of work through playing in rock bands. Initially I was hired to print posters, but as the group I worked with evolved, the projects I was on evolved too. At some point, "can you use a camera?" became "you squeamish about blood?"
I had filmed a variety of medical procedures and surgeries before I filmed the first face transplant conducted at NYU Langone Health in 2015. I was also part of the team that filmed the face transplant of Cameron Underwood in 2018. For these longer surgeries we have a couple different camera operators on hand, and typically take a couple shifts. Since the operating room is such a dynamic setting, you're constantly moving, reframing and jockeying for position, all while trying to keep out of the way. On top of this, you're hyper focused on the surgery itself. It's not a situation where you really want to look away.
The bulk of the work I do is not surgical filming, but live streaming. I had been live streaming various departmental grand rounds for a couple years, and a constant issue that came up again and again in lectures was lack of linguistically and culturally competent physicians. As a bilingual Mexican-American from a rural area with a science background, it hit me that I was the kind of person who was needed. At the time I filmed the first face transplant, I was at a crossroads in life, and it was around then that I decided I would apply to medical school. The face transplant was the push in that direction.
At the recommendation of a physician I worked with, I decided to consider post bac programs to finish up remaining pre-req classes. I had heard about Columbia's Post Bac Premed Program years ago when I was working in San Diego, and after a bit of research decided it would be the program that would make the most sense for me. I've continued to work while taking classes. It's been an adventure so far, and I'm sure it'll continue to be so.