Cordillera Ranch Transplants

Greg Abrahamian knew he wanted to go down either of two career paths: medicine or military. Little did he know the two would merge once his journey brought him to Texas; the place where he met his wife, began his career as a transplant surgeon, raised his children and found Cordillera Ranch.

A first-generation American citizen, Greg was born and raised in Fresno, California. After attending Fresno State, the ambitious graduate took the medical route instead of attending military school once he was accepted to UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. With the assistance of an Air Force Health Professions scholarship, Greg made the move to Texas. “So basically Air Force paid for all of my schooling and I paid with my life; 26 years with the Air Force,” Greg proudly states.

Greg always knew he would eventually end up in the medical field, although it is not something that runs in the family. It’s the memories of a regular past time with his father that Greg finds might have led him to his career.  “I used to spend a lot of time watching M*A*S*H with my dad,” Greg  laughs. “It sounds goofy, but that was probably my biggest influence in going into medicine. I had a grandfather who was somewhat ill and I used to go with him to the doctor’s office. It’s probably those two events – watching M.A.S.H. and my grandfather.”

During his fourth year of surgical residency at Wilford Hall, Greg met Melody.  “It was 1995, during the basketball playoffs and we were at Sombrero Rosa,” Greg recollects. Melody was coaxed by her friend to drop by and the two hit it off. But Melody mentions that Greg stood her up on their first real date.  “I stood her up because I had to go in to do an appendectomy,” Greg laughs. “Then I persuaded her to go out again and here we are.”

Melody was raised by a man in the Air Force, so a future with Greg was something that seemed familiar. “I grew up everywhere,” Melody says. “Every three years, we moved.” So when an organ transplant fellowship took Greg to Boston, Melody was right by his side and enrolled in graduate school in Boston as well. The couple spent two years there before Greg was whisked away.

It was an unexpected series of events that led the couple to their new residence in DC. “I was the last of the Air Force transplant surgeons,” Greg says. “There were no more after me and they shut down Wilford Hall’s transplant center while we were in Boston, so we couldn’t come back here. The Air Force gave me to the Army basically.” But after a slow year, Greg pulled some strings and got the opportunity to come back to Wilford Hall in 2001; the year his first daughter, Natalia was born.

Although there was no longer a transplant unit at the hospital, he was able to work full-time at University Hospital through a memorandum of understanding on loan from the Air Force, the hospital he still works at today. Greg and Melody were back in the city they wanted to be in, with a newborn baby girl; their new family was coming together nicely. Just as Natalia turned three months old, Greg was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Southern Watch right before 9/11, but returned a week before the disaster struck.

In 2004, the Abrahamians’ second daughter, Vienne was born. Melody decided to commit all of her time to her children and became at stay-at-home mom. As Natalie was on the cusp of kindergarten, Melody began researching area schools and Boerne schools were undoubtedly at the top of her list. After speaking about the possible move to Greg, he remembered hearing about a neighborhood in the area.

“I knew about Cordillera way back in the ‘90s,” Greg remembers. “Soon after it opened, a few of the Air Force senior surgeons had heard about it and so I heard about Cordillera through them.” After checking out some houses on the ranch, the family settled on a lot and began the building process. “I like the openness and the quietness. We’ve done all of the club stuff; we fish at the river, Natalia used the Equestrian Center for several years, Melody plays tennis, we have dinner at the Club – the only thing we don’t do is golf.” But Greg didn’t get to settle in for long before he deployed to Iraq.

Coincidentally, when Vienne was three months old, Greg was deployed during the Iraq War to establish the Air Force Theater Hospital north of Baghdad; the first Air Force combat hospital since the Vietnam War. He was with the first group at that hospital for six months during the Fallujah campaign. Greg states, “We were the busiest combat receiving hospital probably in the history of modern warfare.”

Three months after Greg returned in 2005, he resigned from active duty and stayed in the reserves until retiring just last year. Greg is now a full-time surgical director of the kidney transplant program at UTHSCSA and University Hospital.

Although Greg  is regularly humbled by the lives he saves everyday by performing pediatric and adult kidney, liver, and pancreas transplants since 1999, it was those months during the war that were the most fulfilling. “Taking care of injured soldiers and sailors and a lot of Iraqi civilians,” he begins. “That period was my most fulfilling to date and I’m sure through my career as a surgeon. And that had nothing to do with transplant; that was all combat related injuries.”

One of the most interesting cases in his career brings the two together, but it wasn’t while he was on active duty. “A few years back, the Army referred a soldier to me who had been shot in Afghanistan by a sniper. The bullet had injured his ureter and they were having a hard time trying to figure out how to save his kidney. Those guys remembered me from when I was on active duty, and asked me if I could remove his kidney and move it down into his pelvis and hook it back up to his bladder and bypass that injured segment of ureter. Something we call an autotransplant. I had done several of them in the past. We did that and he was able to keep his kidney.”

Greg is one of the 10 total transplant surgeons in the entire South Texas region. And with the large volume of referrals from well outside the area, it’s an understatement to say that he has a busy schedule. For now, he’s focusing on ways to make things easier on his out-of-town patients. “We will probably do some more outreach clinics to some of the more remote areas that we get patients from, like Laredo, Corpus and The Valley. Just to make it easier for patients to not have to come all of the way out to San Antonio for follow-ups.”

As for what the future holds for the Abrahamians, it’s all in the hands of Natalia and Vienne. Melody says, “We just make it through the day and try to keep up with the girls.” Natalia is a full-time competitive hunter jumper equestrian and Vienne is a team gymnast who trains 18 hours a week. Between the two, the couple certainly has their hands full. Greg nods in agreement and states, “What’s next all revolves around the kids.”

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