'I Never Thought I'd Be a Candidate for a Heart Attack'

At age 47, and with no apparent risk factors for cardiovascular disease, Cristina Totoricagil, an assistant school principal, suffered a heart attack while exercising at home. She was transported by ambulance to Baptist Hospital and had a cardiac catheterization done at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

Now healthy and feeling strong, Ms. Totoricagil participated for the first time in the 2017 Miami Heart Walk, which took place Sunday at Museum Park in downtown Miami.

“I am excited that I am participating in the Miami Heart Walk this year because I want to create awareness for people to know that cardiac disease isn’t just isolated to certain people who have high risk factors,” says Ms. Totoricagil, who is one of the nearly 1 million Americans across the country who took part in the American Heart Association’s annual event.

(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Cristina Totoricagil about her recovery from a heart attack, and from Joe Natoli, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Baptist Health South Florida, about the significance of the 2017 Heart Walk and the Institute’s leading role in the community. Video by Alcyene C. de Almeida Rodrigues.)


The Heart Walk is an event that helps promote the fight against heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association’s goal is that all Americans by 2020 have their cardiovascular health improve by 20 percent, and deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke reduced by 20 percent. Joe Natoli, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Baptist Health South Florida, served as walk chair for the 2017 Heart Walk, leading hundreds of donors and volunteers.

“Life is why we walk for a healthier heart,” said Mr. Natoli, who is also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “The Institute has been a leader in Miami community in addressing issues related to heart disease and stroke for three decades.”

Ms. Totoricagil’s story of recovery from a heart attack is similar to thousands of others shared by participants in the Heart Walk nationally.

‘I Knew That Something Was Not Right.’
It was a Saturday morning, and Ms. Totoricagil was working out at home when she started to feel intense pressure in her chest, followed by a numbing and tingling sensation down her left arm.

“I knew that something was not right, so I decided to call 911 at that time…I was scared for my life,” she recalls. She was first transported to Baptist Hospital where she was diagnosed, then rushed to Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute to have the cardiac catheterization performed. The procedure, which involves the insertion of a catheter into the chamber or vessel of the heart, was done by interventional cardiologist, Rajesh Dhairyawan, M.D.

“I am very surprised this has happened to me,” says Ms. Totoricagil. She said she does not smoke, is not overweight, does not suffer from high blood pressure, is not diabetic and exercises regularly. “I never thought that I could be a candidate of someone that can have a heart attack,” she says.

Because the heart attack was due to a blood clot, she was put on blood thinners overnight and was discharged the next day. “I do have to say special thanks to 911 rescue and the hospital here. They have been wonderful. They did save my life,” Ms. Totoricagil says.

A Family History of Heart Disease
She may not have had any apparent risk factors, but Ms. Totoricagil does have a family history of heart disease. Two years ago, her uncle passed away at age of 59 after suffering a massive heart attack on his way to work. “That was in the back of my mind as well while I was going through this,” she remembers. Her maternal grandmother also died from a heart attack early in her life.

Cardiovascular disease is associated with 1 out of every 3 deaths in the U.S, and it is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and globally.

Cardiac Rehabilitation
Lawrence Blacher M.D., a cardiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, is treating Ms. Totoricagil during her recovery from the heart attack. Besides medication, Dr. Blacher recommended that Ms. Totoricagil take part in cardiac rehabilitation at the Institute.

“I cannot begin to say how wonderful that was,” recalls Ms. Totoricagil, about her rehabilitation routine. “They walked me through it from the very beginning. They were very supportive and made me feel at home. I was being monitored and it made me feel very safe. I was not at a regular gym where no one could take care of me.”

The assistant principal’s experience has changed her outlook on life. “I look at things differently now. We sometimes give too much importance to the things we don’t need to. The thought that I would leave my son without his mom — that to me is very important. It makes me think twice, you know, that sometimes we don’t need to stress over the small things.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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