Q&A: Juan Granada Takes the Helm at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation
TCTMD spoke with CRF’s new president and CEO about his roots, his path to New York, and what comes next.
On September 11, 2017, the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF) announced that Juan F. Granada, MD, has been appointed as the new president and CEO of the organization. TCTMD spoke with Granada about his roots, his journey, and his plans.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Medellín, Colombia, right where all the action was. It was an interesting time. Colombia was in the middle of a big transition phase: the drug cartel was blowing up cars in the street. I remember very clearly studying anatomy with some friends and colleagues right in the middle of the bombing. It was pretty tough, pretty rough, especially when we were doing surgery rotations and emergency room rotations—it was a war zone. It was really, really intense.
What about your family—any brothers and sisters?
I come from a small family, one brother and one sister; I am the eldest. We all grew up in Colombia in a middle-class neighborhood, playing soccer on the streets and hanging around with friends. And no cell phones the way kids are today. My brother and my sister are both here in the US, but my mum actually resides in Colombia, as does my extended family.
What did they think when they heard about your new role at CRF?
It’s a big compliment. I guess perhaps in the US people are more used to this kind of thing, but when you decide to leave your country and actually go to a different country, you pretty much abandon your family to follow your dream and your desire for something else. And that’s hard. It’s very hard.
Did you always know you wanted to be a doctor?
For some reason, yes, I did. I not only knew that I wanted to be a doctor, but I knew I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. I went to medical school, and when I finished I decided to do a year of cardiovascular research. And I met a couple of guys who came back from the Ochsner Clinic who had received training in coronary angioplasty, with no stents at that time. I remember when I saw my first case of my first mentor doing a balloon angioplasty, without the need to open the chest, it was like love at first sight. It was so clear to me that this was going to be the future of the field that I just fell in love.
You did your medical degree at the Institute of Health Sciences in Medellín, Colombia, but what brought you to the US?
I was intrigued by research, medical technology, and innovation from the very beginning, and I really wanted to have a real research experience at a large center. Today it’s relatively easy to find these opportunities: with all the international connectivity, people know each other around the globe. But at that time we didn’t have cell phones and we barely had efficient email in Colombia, but I got connected to this group at the University of Wisconsin led by a Cuban cardiologist, Humberto Vidaillet Jr, who at that time was director of the EP program. He changed my life. He not only offered me a research position, but mentored me while I was there. My first papers were on atrial fibrillation and flutter. And as a side story, I spoke no English when I first came to this country. I was absolutely mute for the first 6 months.
After approximately a year I said, "Humberto, listen, this was great. I love it, I’ve learned a lot and this was an amazing opportunity, but I’m ready to go back to Colombia." And he was the one, I will never forget, who said: “No, you will never go back to Colombia.”
He offered me an internal medicine position at the University of Wisconsin. I took the test, I passed, and I stayed. That was it.
And what took you from Wisconsin to Texas?
I was extremely intrigued by interventional cardiology and devices so I started to look for a place that could provide research opportunities. I did very well in my residency. I was a finalist for the ACC Young Investigator Award, I published lots of abstracts, and I was very active and aggressive so I got interviews at the best places in the US. To come from central Wisconsin to interview at Mayo and Duke, Mass General, Stanford—it was just amazing. But the names of those well-renowned places, it may sound harsh, but they didn’t resonate a lot with me. I didn’t grow up in the US, in the system, so while I knew they were great places, I was looking for something specific. When I visited to Baylor College in Houston, they were at the peak of brachytherapy research, doing a lot of experimental work. I saw the environment, I saw the lab, I saw the first-in-human work. I remember coming back home and telling my wife: this is it, I found the place. I have to give a lot of credit to my wife, my best friend, who has supported and validated my decisions throughout my career.
It’s funny because I have my own kids now that are full-blown Americans who were born and raised in the system and they say, “Dad, I cannot believe you said no to those great Ivy League institutions.” But for me, it didn’t mean that much at that point. I was looking for my identity, my dream, my track. And Baylor was it. My mentors and colleagues were Albert Raizner and Neal Kleiman, both renowned interventionalists in the field. My experience at Baylor shaped a lot of what I am today. This is what I tell my fellows: don’t look at a name. It’s beautiful to say you graduated from X, Y, or Z, but try to look for the best match, the best fit, because this is what’s going to make you special.
You joined CRF 10 years ago as executive director and chief innovation officer of the CRF Skirball Center for Innovation. How did that come about?
My dream as a fellow was always to try to integrate science with medical device innovation. Our field is loaded with innovation, but it’s very heavy towards clinical and procedural aspects of what we do. And I wanted to really research and do the science behind device technology, polymers, stents, etc. When I met CEO Marvin Woodall, who was the first person I met at CRF, he told me about this new translational laboratory that CRF was building outside New York and that they were looking for someone to run the lab. At that time, CRF was the dream, for all of us, and it continues to be an icon in interventional technology around the world. I remember when I was a research fellow in Colombia, in South America, we would send abstracts in broken English, by fax, to TCT. I remember spending hours because the fax wouldn’t go through and you had to wait for confirmation. It was actually quite expensive to fax these abstracts. So when I met with Marty Leon for the first time and we talked about the Skirball Center, it was a risk—a complete change for my career track—but also a very easy decision for me to make.
How do you feel leaving that role to be the president and CEO of the organization as a whole?
It is going to be a big change and believe me, it took me several months to think this through and analyze the environment and think about potential plans in the future of CRF before I made the decision. I’m not speaking from a position of ego or pride. This is a position in which I am very humbled—by the opportunity, and by the trust that the board and founders are putting in me. The most exciting thing has been the overwhelming response from the new generation of interventional cardiologists, a whole bunch of fellows and younger-generation physicians that I know around the globe saying: we’re so excited for what’s going to happen at CRF. We’re excited for you, and we’re excited for the field. And that means a lot.
Do you have any hobbies outside of CRF, or is there no time for those?
I’m a footballer—soccer they call it here—I’m a football aficionado. I am crazy for the sport and that’s how I tore my ACL in the spring. I play for the Colombia Physicians National Team, part of the World Medical Football Club, which is a real work-up, with real teams and a real tournament. I was training for that when I tore my ACL and I don’t know when I’ll return. Also, I’m passionate about food and consider myself a pretty decent chef.
I can’t resist asking you what you think about TCTMD—whether you visit the site regularly, what you think of the changes we’ve made to the format and content of the site.
The transformation is clear: from the platform point of view, in terms of ease of use and graphics, as well as the quality of the news coverage and social media presence. It’s fantastic. TCTMD has become the premier interventional cardiology channel, and I’m very excited and proud of it.