It could be argued that the University of New Mexico women’s soccer team was instrumental in the development of the UNM Health Science Center’s Pulmonary Hypertensive Clinic and Program.
One of the doctors instrumental in the setup of the clinic was Dr. Lana Melendres-Groves, an assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at the UNM Health Sciences Center. The Valley High School and University of New Mexico alumnus and soccer player went to Stanford to get her post-doctorate degree in pulmonary vascular disease with the idea of coming back to Albuquerque to set up a program for patients suffering from pulmonary hypertension in 2011-2012.
“What struck me was that there were 30- to 40-year-old women – healthy women who were just starting families, like me – that were being diagnosed with this incurable disease,” she says during a recent phone interview. “At the time, there wasn’t a specific place for these people to go in the state. I was seeing a need that wasn’t being met, and that’s what drove me to get involved.”
“Drive” is critical to a doctor’s success, and Melendres-Groves said her pursuit of a medical career was due in large part to finding a new direction for her internal motivation that made her a successful student-athlete at UNM from 1996-2000.
“To be honest, the adrenaline rush from working in such an intensive career really mirrors playing soccer,” said the doctor who was known as Lana Melendres during her athletic career at UNM. “You have to work as a team, you have to rely on everyone around you and you have to make decisions at a moment’s notice.”
Thankfully for the many patients at the HSC’s Pulmonary Hypertensive Clinic, Melendres enjoyed a tremendously satisfying soccer career.
The former Lobo midfielder is still among the top 10 in seven different categories in the program’s record book. But as much as she gave the Lobo women’s soccer team, the Lobo women’s soccer team gave back.
“It was the utmost positive thing in my life,” Melendres-Groves says. “Everything I encountered shaped who I am. I’d never trade it for anything in my life. It’s given me the majority of my friends. It teaches you to deal with different personalities. It teaches you when to step up and when to rely on your teammates.”
“Being a student is a full-time job, and then you add on the athlete part of it, which is like a part-time job or more. If you can do both, you should be able to succeed in life because you learn how to manage your time.”
Which is why Dr. Melendres-Groves is able to make time for her family. She and her husband Josh Groves are the parents of three boys ages 6, 5, and 2, and an 11-week-old girl.
“It’s pretty much mayhem all the time around our house,” Melendres-Groves says with a laugh.
Josh is the New Mexico Youth Soccer director and is currently running a soccer academy for 5- to 7-year-olds. Lana serves an instructor for the 20 or so kids three days a week. She also competes at the highest competitive women’s league in Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Indoor Soccer League, and plays indoor on a weekly basis.
“I still love to compete, and the coaching aspect is something that makes me happy to do,” Melendres-Groves says. “With my kids growing up and starting to play soccer, now I can enjoy soccer through them.”
Family is a big reason for Melendres-Groves' decision to live in Albuquerque after completing med school.
“This is home,” she says. “Everything about UNM, about New Mexico, makes me think of family. The people here are so kind that I knew I wanted to be here.
“I never walk away from my family.”