For Angel Munoz, it’s all about growing things. At home, away from the newborns who depend on his knowledge and know-how to survive, he works diligently with a kind of tiny, delicate little sprout – chili peppers!
Caring for chili peppers is a side of Munoz, Lake Houston’s first and foremost neonatologist, that his patients and their families never see.
They know Munoz as the one who works with another kind of “tiny, delicate little sprout” – their newborns. He performs everyday miracles on the tiniest and most delicate newborns.
Life is about to change for Munoz. After almost 25 years, he will transition from the demanding and down-right nerve-wracking world of hospital health care to expanding Wee Kare, the pediatric clinic he established in Humble 13 years ago.
“What I do at the hospital is very stressful and challenging,” Munoz said. “You must be meticulous, exacting, consistent and very attentive to the little one. You must never make a mistake – ever. Your little patient’s life depends on it.”
Munoz is a medical doctor trained to handle the most complex and high-risk situations for newborns.
He received his medical degree from the National University of Mexico and his master’s degree in public health from the University of Texas Health Science Center. He completed his residency in pediatrics at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi as well as fellowships in neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia and in muscle disorders in children at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
He has published in The Journal of Pediatrics, is a member of numerous medical associations and has been recognized in articles in more than 100 local, business and medical publications.
He found his forever home in 1994 when Munoz, wife Missy, and his two young daughters, Mariana and Olivia, moved to Lake Houston as he joined the medical staff of what was then called Northeast Medical Center Hospital in Humble.
“I was able to create the perfect environment for newborns when I came to Northeast,” Munoz said. “When I started, I was by myself. I hadn’t trained the nurses yet. I wanted our neonatal nurses to be as exacting as I am, well-trained and never making a mistake.”
While creating his neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and caring for newborns, Munoz also was training the nurses who would be staffing his new unit. Together, Munoz and his skilled and accomplished nurses have cared for more than 40,000 newborns – plus their parents and families.
“For many years, we’ve held a reunion for all the newborns we’ve cared for, all 40,000 of them,” Munoz said. “The eldest is almost 23 years old now. Seeing these healthy young people reminds me why the nurses and I care so deeply for our newborns.”
At least 20 to 30 percent of the newborns Munoz sees have respiratory and heart problems. This can be a special challenge for their parents.
“That’s why it is so important for parents to begin prenatal care to ensure a healthy birth or to identify any potential problems,” he said.
“I don’t know if there is a category in the Guinness Book of World Records for most hours worked in a NICU by a physician but, if there is, I probably could be at the top of the list,” admitted Munoz.
As the only neonatologist on staff, Munoz was on call 24 hours a day, every day of the week. He’s lived in the Lake Houston area for almost 25 years and yet, because of his demanding schedule and his concern for his little patients, there’s much of Houston that he’s never seen.
After creating his NICU, training staff and caring for newborns, Munoz founded Wee Kare, a comprehensive pediatric medical care clinic located in the Humble Plaza Shopping Center just off Highway 59 near the Memorial Hermann Northeast campus.
“We celebrated our 13th anniversary with our annual Fall Festival,” Munoz said. “It’s really a celebration for the community. Kids get to dress up, play games, take hay rides, jump in the moonwalk, get their faces painted, and meet popular television characters.”
“My life has revolved around my babies and the NICU nursery,” Munoz said. “There were many times when I had to miss a special event or cancel a vacation because I couldn’t find the right neonatologist to replace me for a few days. It was tough to leave the NICU. I’ve heard about The Woodlands but I never had the time to see it.”
That’s all about to change. He is retiring from the hospital.
Munoz will be able to focus solely on his Wee Kare Pediatrics clinics. He will continue to see newborns up to 3 months old, and he’ll be working with his Wee Kare staff to bring a Wee Kare to the East Houston/Northshore/Channelview community soon.
And he hopes to enjoy a little more family time, spending more time with his daughters and his two grandchildren. He and Missy have already planned seven different trips over the next few months.
And he’ll have lots more time, he hopes, to grow, roast and pulverize his beloved chili peppers into powder.
“The powder,” Munoz said, “is great on almost anything, especially soup and pizza.”
Because he loves to learn new languages, he’s teaching himself Italian for all those Italian trips he’s planning for himself and Missy; “…and just maybe, Missy and I will have the time to drive up to The Woodlands so I can see what the big deal is all about,” Munoz said.
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