There is an instant ease when conversing with Dr. Erika Gonzalez-Reyes. The reason behind her disarming nature doesn’t make itself evident instantly. Rather, like a lingering perfume whose signature note suddenly becomes clear and triggers alarm bells once the origin is detected, it hits you: she rings true. Authenticity and integrity steeped in deep. With simple and impactful statements such as “excellence in all you do” and “service before self,” her local community roots and military background reveal the foundation of her work ethic and personal character.
That foundation is the basis of her educational and professional accomplishments in highly regarded positions for such a young professional. She is both chief of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and a key associate at the South Texas Allergy and Asthma Medical Professionals (STAAMP).
Like many in the community who made their way to San Antonio through their parent’s military service, Erika landed in central San Antonio at 6-years-old. After continuing her education at St. Mary’s University, she followed in her father’s military footsteps and accepted an Air Force scholarship to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Her military career in medicine eventually planted Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes in Biloxi, Mississippi in 2002. Erika completed her pediatric residency at Keesler Medical Center in Biloxi, and that same year she met her future husband and fellow doctor, Joel Reyes, who is currently the Pediatric ICU Medical Director at San Antonio Military Medical Center.
Biloxi, Mississippi was more than just the beginning of her medical career as chief of pediatric residents. Her professional and personal life was irrevocably altered when Hurricane Katrina pummeled through the state in August of 2005. Erika recalls the experience as “a big turning point for all of us because essentially we lost everything. We had no hospital; there was no place to work…We were both in Washington D.C. for a conference watching everything unfold on television, and the next thing we know, we are watching Biloxi under water.”
“My fulfillment in private practice is that the clinic allows me to see patients over the years, from infancy to elderly”– Dr. Erika Gonzalez-Reyes
After Katrina, Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes was reassigned to Virginia with most of her colleagues. Her role as chief of pediatric residents was extended at a navy hospital in Virginia, where she then applied for her fellowship at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in allergy and immunology in 2006. Her move to Wilford Hall and back to her San Antonio roots marked another milestone professionally and personally for Gonzalez-Reyes. Erika and Joel Reyes married in 2007, and she stayed on at Wilford Hall training fellows until her military commitment ended in 2011.
Her new career as a provider at STAAMP allows her to treat both adults and pediatrics in her hometown of San Antonio, where much of the populace suffer from a variety of allergies. “My fulfillment in private practice is that the clinic allows me to see patients over the years, from infancy to elderly,” Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes says warmly. Working side-by-side at STAAMP with Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes are providers and colleagues Dr. John Dice and Dr. Mark Stahl, who all treat a wide variety of conditions from seasonal allergies and asthma to food allergies and atopic dermatitis.
When asked about her colleagues, and what makes their clinic unique, she shares that all three providers have worked together for 15 years, and all three of them are military veterans. She explains, “We were all trained at the same place, Wilford Hall. John Dice trained me, and I trained Mark Stahl. We bring a lot of what we learned in the military to the practice, and the level of integrity we extend to our patients is reflected in our service to them. We all have a true appreciation of the military, and it means a lot to our patients.” With the clinic in close proximity to Lackland Air Force Base and San Antonio encompassing such a large military presence, a large portion of her patients have an instant connection with the providers in the clinic, many of whom are veterans themselves.
“It may not be seen as a chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but one of the reasons we love our field of medicine, is that we can improve quality of life for patients very quickly”– Dr. Erika Gonzalez-Reyes
When Christus Santa Rosa and Baylor College of Medicine approached Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes about creating the first stand-alone children’s hospital in San Antonio in 2014, she jumped at the opportunity to stay at the forefront of a specialty she is passionate about. “The academic world appeals to me because we can do research and look at cutting-edge treatments that are coming out. For instance, there are new treatments which lower the sensitivity to food allergies in children, as currently there is no cure for food allergies. The only protocol is avoidance, so the research and new treatments available are very exciting, and they can help to save lives,” shares Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes eagerly.
Dr. Erika Gonzalez-Reyes currently resides as the chief of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Baylor College of Medicine and associate professor of clinical pediatrics. Her enthusiasm for food allergy research is reflected in her involvement with additional organizations, such as Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), where she is the medical executive chair for the yearly walk bringing awareness to food allergies, and the San Antonio Food Allergy Support Team, where she sits as the medical advisor.
Her involvement in private practice and pediatric specialty at the Children’s Hospital allows her to see a range of patients from adults to children, and the message she wishes to convey is clear: nobody should have to suffer from allergies. Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes explains that, “It may not be seen as a chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but one of the reasons we love our field of medicine, is that we can improve quality of life for patients very quickly.” She emphasizes, “If you have been suffering, you either did not receive the correct treatment or perhaps were not diagnosed properly.”
“The road is not always easy. It’s not always how you planned or expected it to be…All of your experiences will make you the person you become”– Dr. Erika Gonzalez-Reyes
With her professional trajectory permanently in full swing, one is positive Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes has faced hardships both in her professional and military careers. Not surprisingly, she does not give ubiquitous examples of late night residency hours, nor of military relocation challenges. Incredibly, she relates her most daunting challenge as a lesson learned when she was on the dependent side of the military and facing a pregnancy delivery alone. With her son Lucas born in 2010, and four months pregnant with her second son Evan in 2012, Joel Reyes was called for deployment to Afghanistan for six months. Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes remembers, “I quickly realized he would not make it back for Evan’s delivery, and out of everything I’ve ever done, that is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. I was on active duty for 10 years and didn’t realize until I was on the dependent side the extent of what the family sacrifices in deployment situations.”
While Joel Reyes’ commander made a surprise revelation to him on Thanksgiving that he was being released home early from his deployment and would be there for the delivery, the experience, she says, “It made us stronger. We find such unique ways to support one another.” Indeed, Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes recalls that, “One time he called me and I ran out of diapers for Lucas, I felt like such a bad mom, and the next thing I know, Joel called and said he had me covered and ordered me shipments of diapers, wet wipes and formula from Amazon.” The unity she and her husband share in both their family and professional lives extends into their extracurriculars as well. Self-described “foodies,” they are still adventurous at heart in their love of travel, and they stay committed to spending time with their family and close circle of friends.
With her family settled in the city she grew up in and her husband separating from the military in the coming months, Dr. Gonzalez-Reyes has her sights set on improving the quality of life for her city’s patients in the coming years with positive initiatives. She states, “I would hope to establish both a fellowship program and food allergy clinic at the Children’s Hospital, in addition to expanding STAAMP’s diagnosis and treatment of allergies to more patients across the city.” Her belief in “paying it forward” pushes her to mentor other women interested in medicine so that they may have a positive impact in the communities they serve as well.
She reminds those looking to further their dreams that, “The road is not always easy. It’s not always how you planned or expected it to be…All of your experiences will make you the person you become.” Her statement of those hopes for the community cause the proverbial alarm bells to ring again, detecting an absolute trust in her ability to make those hopes a reality, and while doing so, guiding others in the same core values that have served her and her patients well.
For more information about Dr. Erika Gonzalez-Reyes’ work with STAAMP call 210.616.5385, you can email her firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out their website www.staampallergy.com. You can also visit their location at 10447 Highway 151 in San Antonio, TX 78251.
For more information about the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio call 210.704.2011 or visit www.chofsa.org. You can also visit their location at 333 N. Santa Rosa St. in San Antonio, TX 78207.
All Photos By John Paul Patton of J Patton Photo.