A Promise Fulfilled

Jan 17, 2019 at 09:29 pm by Staff

Harold Neyra, general surgeon

Born in Lima, Peru, Harold Neyra dreamed of being a doctor one day. He never knew about the many turns his career would take on the way to becoming a general surgeon at Oviedo Medical Center.

After immigrating to the United States with his parents and two brothers in 1993, he graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

He thought he'd enter premed but soon gravitated toward biology and environmental science, becoming the second member of his family to graduate college. Afterward, he worked as a biologist in Denver for four years.

Then came a moment that changed his life.

"My parents made big sacrifices to bring us to America, and they wanted the best for us," Neyra said. "My mom wanted me to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor, and I always told her I would go back to medical school. She died in a car accident, and that made me fulfill my promise."

A new purpose

Driven by a new purpose, Neyra threw himself into his studies at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. He planned to become a pediatrician, because he enjoys working with children.

"I never thought about other specialties, but I fell in love with surgery during my rotations at St. Barnabas Hospital in New York," he shared. "I was drawn to the possibility of immediately helping people using my hands, skills and training."

He switched tracks into general surgery, and his training confirmed he was on the right path.

"People from all over the world live in New York City, so we got to see pathologies you don't see anywhere else," he said. "Choosing that path, and learning from those doctors, is the luckiest thing that could have happened to me."

At one point during his residency, he was on call around the clock in the event of trauma cases at the hospital.

"The highlight of my residency was performing an open thoracotomy for a young man with a stab wound to the heart," he says. "The mortality rate for that type of wound is around 90 percent, but I was able to save him, and he went home two weeks later."

Demanding the best

When Neyra decided to pursue general surgery, some people said his personality was "too nice," he recalled. "Surgery is a hierarchical field, with a reputation for being harsh and mentally challenging. When I'm in the operating room, I try to keep my cool and put myself in the other person's shoes. I think back to my mom, who used to clean offices at a hospital in Colorado. Everyone deserves respect, but you also need to demand the best from your team. It's ultimately about the patient."

Neyra's pursuit of excellence is most evident in his commitment to performing less-invasive surgeries with more painless recoveries. With that in mind, he is trained on the da Vinci robotic system and stays current on the latest surgical techniques. He makes the smallest abdominal incision possible, using an optical bladeless trocar only 5 millimeters wide.

"There are so many advantages to the da Vinci robot," he said. "We can do better dissection, achieve cleaner margins on surgical tumors, and use smaller incisions, which translates to less pain. It allows us to not damage any other organs, because the 3D camera allows us to feel like we're inside the abdomen."

Meanwhile, postoperative treatment continues to advance. Neyra is working with Dr. Esteban Varela and the anesthesia team at Oviedo Medical Center to implement an enhanced recovery protocol that helps to reduce the risk of painkiller addiction and return patients home sooner.

Community-oriented care

As one of the hospital's main general surgeons, Neyra performs a wide range of procedures. The most common are gallbladder removal, hernia repair, colon resections and appendix removal. He also treats reflux disease and small bowel obstructions.

In the future, he hopes to develop Oviedo Medical Center's breast surgery program to perform more lumpectomies and mastectomies. In addition, he and Dr. Varela are trained in bariatric surgery and working toward developing a full weight-loss surgery center at the hospital.

Married to an internist who works at another local hospital, Neyra has a young daughter and son. He enjoys playing soccer and traveling on medical mission trips to Haiti, Kenya and Ghana in his free time.

"I'm excited to be working at a community-oriented hospital, and I believe we can create something big here," he said. "We're making sure patients know that they don't have to travel far to find a surgeon they can trust."