June 1, 2021

Carrying out the Family’s Mission of Better Access to Healthcare

Growing up in a generational family of health care providers, Alyssa Cigarroa was exposed to service above self at an early age. Stories discussed around the dinner table and during family gatherings of the need to improve Laredo’s access to quality healthcare were always front and center among the many family members who took a special interest. These discussions defined the path she set out for herself.

“One of the things I admire most about my family is their ‘constancy of purpose,’” Alyssa said. “They would discuss inequities, whether in education or healthcare, and without hesitation, work to overcome these issues.”

Alyssa’s independent spirit and love for the arts defines her. At the age of 17, she traveled to Europe and spent six years apprenticing under remarkable artists, such as Ted Jacobs. Her decision to “apprentice” as opposed to the traditional college education reveals her strong will and willingness to blazon her own path.

Her trajectory changed though upon receiving a call from her father.

“Our conversation took a more serious tone when he began speaking of the lack of time he had to work on a singular project that had become very important to him,” she said. “His busy cardiology practice just didn’t give him the time he needed.”

The project he had in mind was to build an outpatient catheterization lab not based in the hospital setting. This would provide a beautiful and warm environment in which to perform heart catheterizations, coronary stents, pacemakers, and peripheral vascular procedures. It would increase access to care and be much less expensive and the first Cath Lab in the country accredited as an ambulatory surgical center.

But building a surgical center would not be easy, especially the one he envisioned. It would take the expertise of a full-time individual, who he trusted and was just as committed to the project as he was. More than that, he needed someone who knew first-hand the needs of an interventional cardiologist and their patients.

“After my Dad told me what he wanted to do, I agreed to come home for one year,” Alyssa said. “The opportunity to build a first-class surgical center that would provide better—and faster—access to those suffering from heart disease was something I was prepared to do.”

Weeks later, she returned home and got to work quickly on the architectural design of the surgical center, then overseeing construction, ordering equipment and supplies, selecting furniture, even choosing the right colors—every detail now under her direction. The task of also credentialling the surgical center with insurance companies and making sure it would pass state inspection also falling under her prevue.    

Since opening its doors to patients in January of 2020, the state-of-the art Cigarroa Surgical Center has now performed hundreds of life-saving cardiac procedures on patients. It was a vision carried out by a determined daughter whose life mission of service to her community began with a trip home for her father.

But upon returning to Laredo, Alyssa’s love for her hometown continued to blossom. She founded Cultivarte, a non-profit art foundation with a mission to increase access to education in the arts and unite the many artists in our hometown. During the process, she became very involved in city government, and with her intense love for humanity and need to help those in need without a voice, led a successful campaign for city council. She now joins four generations of political activists in the family: Francisco Gonzalez de la Vega (Governor of Durango, Mexico), Henry B. Gonzalez (U.S. Congressman), Joaquin Gonzalez (U.S. Congressman), Dr. Leo Cigarroa and Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa Jr. (LISD Board Members) and Dr. Francisco Cigarroa (Chancellor of the University of Texas).  

Alyssa and Regina Portillo also founded Laredo Contra Covid, a social media platform that provided direct and unfiltered information regarding Covid-19. The platform promoted transparency and honesty and was the source of Covid information for thousands of Laredoans.

Alyssa’s favorite quote was written by Tagore. It says,

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Thankfully, Alyssa’s return to Laredo for ‘one year’ has turned into a lifetime of commitment to her beautiful community.