Southern California man overcomes gang life to become doctor

Monday, January 2, 2017
Santa Ana man overcomes gang life to become doctor
James Maciel overcame gang life in Santa Ana and a stint in juvenile hall to become a doctor.

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A doctor from Santa Ana, California is performing extraordinary work in one of the busiest trauma centers in the country, but his journey to working in the operating room was anything but ordinary.

Before Dr. James Maciel began working at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center he was heading down the wrong path as a teenager.

"I grew up in Santa Ana, California. A very low income, underserved community, predominately Latino and growing up it was a lot of poverty that I saw. Violence, social injustice," Maciel explained.

Maciel started running with a gang and eventually landed himself in juvenile hall when he was 16.

"I hit a personal rock bottom. For me it was kind of like if you keep this up you're going to end up in prison. That really scared me. My parents would come visit and the pain in their eyes," Maciel recalled. "My dad, to actually see a man cry. I was like this really isn't me. I can't continue to do this. I'm causing a lot of pain."

Maciel served about eight months in juvenile hall and later became a teenage father.

Although the odds appeared to be stacking against Maciel, he kept his faith and persevered.

"I started walking a straight and narrow," he said.

Maciel landed a job as a janitor with the school district, which opened the door for him to pursue his education.

He would push through his undergrad and master's degree before completing medical school as a father of three.

"It just required a lot of sacrifice," he said. "Both on me and their mom."

From running the streets to wearing a stethoscope, Maciel said he hopes his story will show others the importance of pursuing higher education.