Q&A: 49ers doctor Daniel Garza goes from the Farm to Super Bowl XLVII

The San Francisco 49ers aren’t going to the Super Bowl alone– they’re taking a piece of Stanford with them: their medical director, Daniel Garza ’91 M.D. ’00.

Garza has been on the Farm since 1987, when he came as a freshman. He then went to the medical school and did his residency and fellowship, all within a bike ride from Palm Drive. He is currently an assistant professor at the School of Medicine and is well known for the Human Biology (HumBio) classes he teaches.

The Daily called Garza, who is in New Orleans, to talk about his time at Stanford, his role as medical director of the 49ers and the dog statue outside Soto.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you first get interested in medicine, and sports medicine in particular?

Dan Garza (DG): Medicine is one of those fields that you grow into. Like many people who go into medicine eventually, I have been interested in medicine since I was young. As for sports medicine, that came when I was in medical school. A lot of folks training in medical school develop relationships with mentors and I had two mentors: Jim McGuire, who had been [chief of staff at Stanford Health Services], and Gordon Matheson [professor of orthopedic surgery], who is still my boss. Both my mentors were pretty interested in sports medicine. I had begun to do some research with Gordon and we wrote some papers together.

 

TSD: What was your life like at Stanford as an undergraduate?

DG: I remember that I lived in Wilbur, Soto, for four years. The best draw number I got was 2749, and one of things I remember was that while we were living there, there was this concrete dog. And the story behind this was that the resident fellow (RF), John Perry, and his wife were driving down to Monterey, and when you drive down to Monterey, you’ll always see a place where there are all these woodcarvings and all sorts of things. They stopped and for some reason brought back a concrete dog. So then the resident assistants and RFs of that time made up a story about it– something about how that dog died after fighting it out with a rabid raccoon. I think most people took the story seriously and over the years, I heard the story being told.

TSD: How did you first get involved with the San Francisco 49ers?

DG: Pure luck. I had just finished my fellowship and one of their medical professionals was retiring and reached out to the chairman here, who was William Maloney ’79. And he said, “Here’s a guy that would probably be the best to work with you.” So I interviewed, and it went well. It wasn’t like I had sought it. I don’t remember when I started working with the 49ers but I know it was when [Vernon] Davis was drafted in either 2005 or 2006, and then one year later, the orthopedic chair came to Stanford, and we’ve been partners since then.

[Vernon Davis was drafted in 2006]

TSD: How long have you been their medical director?

DG: There was basically one year where I was just in a team position and then the next year we changed to a model that was developed at Stanford, where there is one physician that goes over all the aspects of medical care for the players, which is when I became medical director.

TSD: What does that role entail?

DG: For the players, their health care advisors are all here at Stanford, and any of their wives’ and children’s health care runs through Stanford. My job is basically to find physicians to work with us and find whatever they need. Like we have a team of obstetricians, a team of ear, nose and throat doctors, and you really get to know the athletes and their families.

TSD: Do you have to attend all of the games and practices?

DG: We go to every game, away and home. And a team of orthopedic surgeons and I split coverage of practice.

TSD: What sort of injuries have you attended to?

DG: Everything from common things like sprained ankles to broken jaws, concussions, neck injuries. It’s a violent sport. We’ve even had a kidney laceration. You never know what’s out there when you’re on the field. I prefer not to be on the field, and we have a very good athletic training team that is trained to treat a wide variety of injuries.

TSD: What is the scariest injury you’ve had to deal with while on the field?

DG: There were two and these were public. Both were last year. One was in Seattle. We had a player with a broken jaw. Broken jaws can be difficult; a piece of jaw can retract and block breathing. In that case, it wasn’t, but he was taken to a Seattle hospital that was the best trauma center. It was difficult because we had a player with an injury and they were just out of our hands. It was weird to be just wondering what’s going on.

There was also an injury during the NFC Championship. One of the players looked like he was knocked out cold and we ran out onto the field. You have to make sure he’s okay; there’s a lot of concern for players on both teams– they don’t want to see something catastrophic during the game.

TSD: Are you a big football/49ers fan?

DG: I mean I do enjoy football. I like being in the stands and watching the games, and of course I’m a fan of the 49ers as their medical director. But at the end of the NFL season, I take a break from sports and from watching it on TV. I’m just a different kind of football fan.

TSD: Are you excited about being in New Orleans for the Super Bowl?

DG: I’m very excited, and it’s amazing. If you walk down Canal Street, which is like their main street, you can see all this regalia. And there’s nothing as big as this– I mean, I know the World Cup is huge, but we just grew up with this football culture, and it’s just phenomenal here. I took a walk recently, tried to soak up the craziness. It’s a fun experience, and I’m enjoying it as well.

About Catherine Zaw