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Expats to Repats: Buffalo's resurgence entices couple who helped rebuild New Orleans

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, the region set out to recover and rebuild. The area was rife with job opportunities for young professionals, especially in the medical field.

Newly married, each having earned a Ph.D., Ramon and Lizette Rivera chose to leave Philadelphia, where Ramon completed his fellowship and Lizette attended graduate school, to begin their professional careers in New Orleans. They wanted to be on the front lines, helping the city struggle back to prosperity.

Ramon was raised in Brooklyn and the Dominican Republic; Lizette grew up in Hamburg and studied at Nardin, then attended graduate school at Lehigh University in Philadelphia, where they met.

[Expats to Repats: A traveling family rediscovers Buffalo roots]

They told themselves they would live in New Orleans for a year - two, at most.

“We had no kids at the time, so we thought, 'Let’s give it a try,'” Ramon said. “The job was gratifying, and it suited us both professionally. We saw the growth around us.”

Two years turned into nine. During that time, the couple bought and renovated a house and had three children: Aidan, now 7; Ella, 5; and Addison, 2. Their temporary plan had evolved into something more permanent. As the kids grew, distance from relatives seemed too far. Despite their comfort in the South, they considered moving closer to home.

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Names: Ramon Rivera and Lizette Flammer-Rivera
Ages: Ramon, 42; Lizette, 38
Current location: Orchard Park
Previous location: New Orleans for nine years, Philadelphia for six years before that.
Miss about New Orleans: Being part of a rebuilding community.
Love about Buffalo: Recent development, Opportunity for professional growth.

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Ramon’s family now lives on Long Island; Lizette’s parents are still in Hamburg.
“We weren’t focused on moving back to Buffalo,” Lizette said. “We thought maybe Ohio or Pennsylvania, where the distance would be drivable. We wanted to be closer than a plane ride.”

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Ramon, a gastroenterologist, was interviewing in Cleveland when a friend mentioned a job opening in Buffalo. With the developing infrastructure downtown, the Riveras were impressed by the improved services and attractions in the region.

“We never thought we would finalize or set down in Buffalo,” he said. “On a trip here, we drove around and thought the medical corridor was impressive. There is significant growth, and the potential is there for us to grow with it.”

They see Buffalo’s resurgence. The energy and attitude are similar to what they experienced in the South a decade ago. When the job offer came, they decided to uproot.

Momkids.rivera

Lizette Flammer-Rivera with children, Aidan, 7; Ella, 5; and Addison, 2, at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The couple sold their home in New Orleans and bought a 1960s fixer-upper in Orchard Park. In January, Ramon began working a varied schedule that includes training fellows at the University at Buffalo while providing gastroenterological services at Roswell Park, ECMC and Buffalo General Hospital.

While they are energized by the changes, moving here hasn’t been as simple as they expected.

[Expats to Repats: Couple's culinary vision brings them back to the 'burg]

“So many important milestones in our life happened in New Orleans,” Ramon said. “We slowly became part of the community fabric after Katrina, and it was difficult to leave.”

Lizette said, “I don’t think we recognized how connected we had actually become during our nine years. We’d gotten close to families in the neighborhood and at our kids’ schools. In our minds, we always thought we’d be leaving in a year or two. Once it was time to pull the plug, I was surprised at our reaction.”

But they appreciate the benefits of their relocation. Lizette’s parents and brothers are here, so their kids can grow up and play with cousins. Their home in the suburbs offers more space than city living. There is no longer a lingering fear.

Ramon Rivera with children Aiden and Ella.

Ramon Rivera with children Aiden and Ella.

“You were always on edge in New Orleans,” Lizette said. “We lived in a safe neighborhood, but even so, crime was rampant. You could get mugged taking out your trash. Armed robberies were very real. We wanted a place where our kids could play in the backyard.”

Coming to Buffalo, however, was driven by the career potential.

“There is a vision here, and it’s palpable,” Ramon said.  “We see the growth and engagement. People in the medical community want to put Buffalo on a national stage. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Lizette already has connections in the region from work she did before earning her doctorate in school psychology. For the past two years, she’s been a part-time consultant and full-time mom, planning to become more involved in the profession as her children grow. Between schools and health care providers, she believes Buffalo offers a wealth of opportunities for her.

“If everything works out professionally for us, it’s an ideal situation,” she said. “The schools are great here. We always keep options open, but if we can make it in Buffalo forever, we will.”

 

If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email jeffschober@hotmail.com

Jeff Schober is a writer and teacher from Hamburg. His most recent novel, “Faces and Fingertips,” was released in June.  He has written the non-fiction "Bike Path Rapist," with Detective Dennis Delano, and the sports biography "Growing Up Gronk." He is also the author of the novels "Boneshaker" and "Broken and Profane." Visit his website at jeffschober.com.

 

 

 

 

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