Lydia Aguilera – multifold inspiration

Lydia Aguilera and familyWhen Lydia Aguilera, program director and clinical associate professor in the Cooperative Program at UT Rio Grande Valley, was invited to participate in the college’s 2016 Mother’s Day salute with her daughter, Veronica Guerra Chanes (Pharm.D. 2011), her first response was in true mom style. “I would love to participate; however, I have two daughters that are pharmacists and a son in healthcare!” Thus our first trio foursome.

“May 2011 was a time in my life I will never forget,” Lydia wrote. “I have three children, and all three graduated from college the same weekend.”

She explains that she had been appointed interim director/assistant dean of the Cooperative Pharmacy Program in July 2010. She was looking forward to the graduation ceremonies of the Class of 2011 – her first class that happened to include daughter, Veronica.

“As graduation dates approached, I began to panic,” she recalled. “What if the Houston date (daughter Elana Guerra Vivian) conflicted with Austin (Veronica) or UT Pan American (son Jonny Guerra). My children assured me that they understood my situation and would be fine with whatever decision I made – yeah right.”

“I proceeded to do what never fails,” she said. “I prayed incessantly with calmness, thanks, and praise. Dates were announced, and, indeed, there was a conflict with the Houston and UT Pan American commencements. They would be held on the same Saturday, 300 miles apart.”

Lydia continued praying. A few weeks before the date, Elena called from Houston to say that her ceremony had been pushed back to Friday due to construction issues.

“I still remember the relief and joy I felt that day,” Lydia said. “I was able to make all three ceremonies!”

“I think probably they (her offspring) were drawn to health care by the community that we serve,” Aguilera said reflecting on the number of health care providers in her family.

“My working in a community pharmacy exposed them to many facets of the profession,” she continued. “We serve a vulnerable population in the Rio Grande Valley and thus there is a need for kind, considerate care.”

Lydia's children

The Guerra siblings

Her children agree.

“Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around my mother being a pharmacist,” said Veronica. “My mom worked a lot so to spend time with her, my siblings and I went to the pharmacy.”

Eventually, Lydia purchased her own pharmacy, giving her offspring even more opportunities for hands-on experience.  In fact, they were at the pharmacy so much that eventually the siblings found summer work there.

“Spending quality time with my mom at work laid the foundation for my desire to become a pharmacist,” Veronica continued. “We always had fun going to the pharmacy”

“Throughout the years that I worked with my mom in the pharmacy, I learned to always give my best,” said Elana.  “My mom has exemplified how far a strong work ethic can take you, and I am appreciative to have learned such a valuable lesson from her.  Now that I am a pharmacist and the mother of a six-month-old, I can fully appreciate the sacrifices my mom made to support us.”

“As a teenager, I shifted my focus from stocking shelves and organizing files to observing my mom educating patients,” Veronica recalled.  “My mom has a way of making each person feel important. To this day I am still in awe of the way people are drawn to her for the advice she gives.”

Jonny agrees that the experiences of working in the pharmacy helped shape his career. “Those experiences helped me to appreciate exactly what healthcare providers deal with in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV),” he said. “Education levels and wages are lower here than in other areas of the state, and my undergraduate years were immersed in working with the largely impoverished population of the RGV.”

“I have even more respect for my mom now as I begin to walk in her footsteps as a pharmacist,” Veronica continued.  “Watching my mom work for so many years, I learned that as pharmacists we have a duty to help people understand how to use their medications.  I use some of the same counseling tips she always gave to mothers of children using inhalers for the first time.  As I pave my own career path, I hope to be able to inspire others the way she has inspired me.

“Emergency engages all areas of medicine,” Jonny said. “Patients can present with anything from minor to critical illnesses. I will certainly take the lessons I learned from working in my mom’s community pharmacy with me. ‘Treat them the way you would want someone to treat you or your family.’ That was Mom’s pharmacy’s creed and my mother’s legacy.”

Arguilera with grandchildren

The next generation

Today Elena and Veronica are both HEB pharmacists in the Rio Grande Valley – Elena is a pharmacy manager in Elsa while Veronica is a staff pharmacist in Weslaco.  Jonny, who has decided on a career in emergency medicine, will graduate from the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of North Texas in May.  And, Lydia continues to be a proud mom of three children in healthcare, a proud grandmother to two babies, and a proud dean to the Rio Grande Valley students who complete their pharmacy studies under her guidance each year.

Lydia displays much of the same passion and pride in her students as she does her children and grandchildren.  Each spring, she and Jose Rivera, her counterpart in El Paso, stand on the stage at the College of Pharmacy convocation, offering a hug of congratulations to each of the students who complete studies from their region. Lydia’s eyes often fill with tears of pride as she congratulates her students, now graduates. “These kids,” she is often heard saying, “I am so proud of them.”