By: Aaron Seaman
Imagine taking 75 percent of your belongings – most of the material things you have spent your life collecting, including many symbols of status from a successful career – and simply giving them away. And imagine in doing so, you attain a sense of enlightenment and self-enrichment.
While that might sound like the premise for a movie script, it’s actually something Dr. Joseph Diaz, president of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Associates of South Texas, P.A. (AAIASTX), recently did.
As the largest allergy/immunology practice in San Antonio, AAIASTX has four clinics throughout the city, including its most recent location on the South Side, which has proven to be a hotbed for economic development and growth.
As one of the practice’s newer clinics, the location is clearly a special one for Diaz (who prefers to be called Joe) and his colleagues, and it stands as a testament to the vision and direction they have for the practice.
In fact, Diaz prides himself on the South Side office, claiming it is the best-looking one in the group and calling it his showcase office.
“It was important for us to make this [South Side] office a special place,” Diaz says. “This type of office is what you might expect to see in the North Side, maybe Stone Oak, but out of respect to our patients and the community, we wanted to make this a first-class facility.”
A single father of five children whose ages range from 15 to 25, Diaz looks younger than you would expect, especially for someone who has not only raised five children, but has also overcome his share of adversity and personal demons.
It also doesn’t take long after being in Diaz’s presence to see that he is a spiritual man, and his Zen-like state is comforting. After a very difficult and trying time recently, he says he reached the realization that many of the belongings he had amassed after a lengthy and successful career were just material items that didn’t really bring value to what is most important to Diaz: his family.
So he gave away about 75 percent of his belongings, including a WaveRunner to one fortunate staff member, and he even sold his home in Alamo Heights in favor of a two-bedroom condo he shares in the same building as his son near the Medical Center.
“It was so liberating for me to be free of these possessions,” Diaz says. “It felt like an awakening, and truly helped me to re-focus on my priorities.”
Now, just to be clear, to say Diaz is “Zen-like” doesn’t mean you’ll find him kneeling in the corner and meditating. On the contrary, Diaz is known by his colleagues for his unyielding work ethic – a work ethic so strong that it is almost a character defect.
He confesses that while he wasn’t the smartest student in school, he worked the hardest.
“Others might be smarter,” Diaz says, “but I’d be up studying at 5 a.m. while everyone else was asleep.”
Diaz is an extrovert, a successful entrepreneur and an intuitive risk taker who has a drive that took him from trying his first sprint triathlon to successfully completing an Iron Man triathlon within 12 months of each other.
To call Diaz Zen-like is to say he has attained a level of enlightenment while maintaining a fierce competitiveness and a driving desire to succeed.
To understand Diaz’s priorities, one need look no further than the AAIASTX logo, which is three intertwined crosses that represent God, family and service. Those priorities are shared by Diaz’s colleagues, who comprise some of the most talented and experienced minds in their field of medicine.
Drs. W. Ted Kniker, John Dice, Erika Gonzalez-Reyes and Mirie Hosler are all board-certified physicians, and along with Diaz and Melissa Garcia, P.A., they comprise the core of the AAIASTX practice.
Kniker, the elder statesman of the group, joined AAIASTX in September 1998 after a distinguished career in academic medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Kniker confesses he always knew he would be a physician, even as early as the sixth grade. The first in his family to practice medicine, Kniker graduated valedictorian and established the first student government for his medical school in Galveston.
Kniker has helped train some of the leading allergists in the country, and through his work as a physician and academician, he is motivated by the nobility of service, which extends beyond allergy treatment to his volunteer efforts on the board of the Autism Treatment Center, something near to his heart given that one of his children is autistic.
“You can make a difference through service, beyond practice, even to the world,” Kniker says. “Jesus taught us to love our God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In all that we do, all should be treated with love.”
Gonzalez-Reyes says the practice’s three priorities are personal for her, as well, and she sees them as more intertwined. She feels that through her work as a physician and by treating her patients, she is serving God, her family and her community.
“I believe that God blessed me with the desire, drive and talent to practice medicine and be at the level I am at with our practice,” Gonzalez-Reyes says. “I also feel blessed to work in such a diverse practice with such outstanding providers from different backgrounds. There is definitely a sense of team, which isn’t necessarily common.”
Gonzalez-Reyes, who will have just completed her service of active duty to the U.S. Air Force by the printing of this article, is a San Antonio native with a deep love of community.
She has also seen firsthand, through her service in the military, great examples of social medicine where patients don’t have to worry about what services are covered or decide to only partially fill a prescription due to availability of funds.
“The environment today is highly regulated, and is still a burden for both patients and providers,” Gonzalez-Reyes says. “Having grown up with military doctors taking care of me and my family, cost of treatment was never an issue. Hopefully we can get to a point where anyone can get the care and treatment they need to be healthy.”
Also former military, Dice received both the Air Force Achievement and the Meritorious Service medals. Like each of his colleagues, Dice is both a physician and academician, and he has served as both a staff physician and an instructor at Wilford Hall Medical Center, which is home to one of the largest and most respected allergy training programs in the nation.
Dice appreciates the focus on academics among his peers, and that they stay at the forefront of the most advanced information and cutting-edge technology, in addition to the latest medications and therapies.
He is especially enthusiastic about the continued investment in technology, and he believes patients benefit from an environment and processes that are better, safer, faster and more efficient.
“Technology will enable patients to share information prior to visiting with their physician, enabling them to make the most of their actual face time,” Dice says. “In the future, doctors will be able to respond electronically, and may even have something like a computerized allergy shot program, which will be both safer and more efficient.”
Even with the investment in technology, Dice says there will always be a need for his profession, which he feels is very rewarding, especially when it comes to personal interaction with patients.
One common theme among the providers is the emphasis on service to each other. The entire group resonates a sense of family, and this was one of the keys to Hosler’s decision to join the practice.
“We have many smart, outstanding providers, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of such a distinguished group,” Hosler says. “We work together very well, keep each other sharp, share ideas and articles we come across and discuss ways to better serve our patients. That is not always the case in other practices.”
Hosler appreciates the fact that the providers don’t let each other get complacent, and are encouraged to share ideas on how to improve the practice. She also reveals that beyond the professional respect the providers have for each other, there is a definite personal bond that is evidenced in how well they get along with each other.
“While I was interviewing at other practices, it became apparent that the level of care and professionalism here, as well as the sense of family, was much different than anywhere else I encountered,” Hosler says. “I appreciate my colleagues, and each day is an opportunity to work with and learn from each other.”
The providers all convey a sense of nobility about their profession and a sense of passion for what they do. And while egos and doctors go together like San Antonio and allergies, each of the providers is remarkably humble.
This can partly be credited to Diaz, his approach and his newfound sense of enlightenment. He sees his practice as a family, and that is evident in visiting with his colleagues.
With his priorities of God, family and service firmly established, Diaz is very aware of who he is and what he has to offer others, including his children, his colleagues, his patients and his community.
For a man who has battled and overcome tremendous adversity, Diaz appears ready for the next chapters in his life to unfold, and his supporting cast is up for the challenge.