Pediatrician Dr. Rene Bravo doesn’t exaggerate when he says during the course of his 30-plus-year career that has been spent entirely in San Luis Obispo he has easily treated 100,000 local youth.
He does joke, though, he and his wife, Debra, of 38 years, have to leave the area and travel to the other side of the country to get any kind of anonymity.
“Sometimes to escape, I have to go places like New York City,” Bravo said with a wide smile on a recent Friday morning at Blackhorse Espresso & Bakery on Los Osos Valley Road, where he, of course, knew several families that came into the coffeehouse.
The 60-year-old pediatrician’s face lit up every time he recognized a young family—or they recognized him—as he chatted about his life and career. It goes without saying when you have spent the better part of your days treating many of the community’s youth, who are now bringing their own children into your practice, you can’t go many places without knowing someone.
And that’s OK with Bravo, a Florida native, who said he wouldn’t change his life’s work for anything.
“If I had to do it over again, I would do this in a heartbeat,” Bravo said, adding he feels very blessed he knew early in his life he wanted to become a physician. “It didn’t start this way. I wanted to be a surgeon.”
He also doesn’t really mind the trek across the country seeking rest and relaxation as the couple love theatre and plan an annual visit to the Big Apple to take in Broadway shows, concerts and the like while under the cloak of anonymity the city provides.
Born to immigrant parents—his mother was from Cuba and his father from Ecuador—Bravo and his family relocated from Florida to Califor- nia in 1962, when he was just a small boy and didn’t speak any English.
When he entered kindergarten in a suburb near southeastern Los Angeles, Bravo remembers laughing at the other kids because he didn’t understand them.
“One of my earliest recollections of being a monolingual child in Los Angeles was going to kindergarten, not knowing a lick of English and laughing at everyone because they were just jibber jabbering,” Bravo said. “I got punished several times for that.”
He quickly learned to speak English at age 5 and was the first in his family—Bravo has a sister and brother—to go to college. Bravo graduated Bell High School in 1975 and attended Point Loma Nazarene University, graduating in 1979. He then attended medical school at U.C. San Francisco, completing his internship and residency at Stanford University Medical Center.
He came to San Luis Obispo County in 1986 right out of his medical residency, joining the San Luis Medical Clinic. Bravo stayed with the clinic for a few years, then left to join a group of local pediatricians before starting his own practice—Bravo Pediatrics—which he still operates today at 3421 S. Higuera St.
“It’s an amazing experience to live in a town where you have raised your family and you see other people raise theirs,” Bravo said. “I feel very blessed to have landed in a community that is so warm. This is a good town. I could have ended up anywhere else in the country, but I ended up here. San Luis Obispo has allowed me to have a good life, a quality life, and to be able to do meaningful things and give back.”
Bravo said he knew he wanted to be a doctor from a young age, having been diagnosed as a teen with cancer. He injured his knee while fleeing his home during a large earthquake. Doctors subsequently found a lump and it was cancerous.
The teen spent the next several years in treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy, at the City of Hope. It spurred his desire to want to dedicate his life to practicing medicine and helping others.
“Out of a great tragedy and a difficult time in my life, I was able to glean that which was able to make me a doctor,” Bravo said. “That was a seminal event. I faced my mortality at a very young age and it really made me very grateful for everything that I have around me. I never take life or its permanence for granted. I came out of that with a desire to serve and to help and to give back.”
Bravo, who was raised in the Protestant church, also said his strong faith helped to support him and his family through that hard time in their lives, just as it does today. He also said people can’t really know who he is without knowing how important his faith is to him.
“It sustains me at a time when things don’t make sense or are confusing,” he added. “You can’t know a lot about me without knowing that is a critical part of my life. (My faith) has been an important part of my life throughout life.”
In the 1980s, Bravo led missionary trips into the jungle in Central America, where he worked with an orphanage in Guatemala during the civil war to provide health care, including immunizations to many of the orphans of the war.
That work also changed Bravo’s perspective on justice and the need to be involved, which carried over making it a priority to help provide the best possible medical services — especially to families that might not otherwise have access — throughout his medical career, which he said is far from over.
“I really enjoy children and most importantly I enjoy the fact that when you invest in a child you are investing in the future,” he said. “You are investing in a human being that will touch the lives of people for generations to come. The fact that you can get into people’s lives a and their families and help them, that is the ultimate. There’s nothing like it at all. That’s what I love about it.”
Bravo doesn’t deny his job does come with days when he has to deliver news no parent ever wants to hear and no pediatrician ever wants
to speak. On those days when things don’t make sense, Bravo draws comfort from his faith.
“There are sad days,” he said. “The most difficult thing that I have ever had to do is tell people their child has something that will result in their own mortality. I have seen children born; I have seen them die. It’s quite a ride, emotionally. The secret to enduring is my wonderful wife and my faith.”
Asked what advice he gives new families, Bravo’s eyes sparkled and the pediatrician said he always tells first-time parents to trust their instincts because they do know what they’re doing, even if it may not feel like it to them when they are in that moment of feeling like a complete failure.
“I also tell them they won’t remember how to change a diaper or how to nurse a baby or how to take care of a belly button,” Bravo said. “They won’t remember that in 20 years, but they will remember what it feels like to be a parent for the first time and they will carry that memory for the rest of their life.”
He added, “And at the big, most important times of life when their child goes to kindergarten or graduates from high school or gets married later in life, they will think back to the moments when the child was born, so I tell them it’s very important to create good memories for themselves because these are the memories that are going to last.”
Bravo has five grown sons and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he also enjoys exercising, backpacking and gardening. He still owns the
1974 red VW van that he drove in college.
For more information about Bravo Pediatrics, call (805) 544-4460 or visit www.bravopediatrics.com.