On Sept. 17 of last year, Lazaro Garcia was planning to lead a Kaiser Permanente team at the American Heart Association Heart Walk in Walnut Creek.
He never made it.
Garcia almost died of a heart attack that day — not once, but three times within an hour and a half.
The 58-year-old vice president for Kaiser Permanente’s Information Technology Group had just finished playing a game of basketball at his local gym. Garcia describes himself as a lifelong athlete who regularly plays ball with 20- and 30-year-olds. But on this day, after he sat down to rest, he didn’t get up.
“I’ve been told I just fell over,” Garcia explained. “My heart had stopped. I basically had died.”
One of the basketball players started CPR, others called 9-1-1, and someone retrieved the gym’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED). A member of the gym staff was trained on the AED and revived Garcia before paramedics arrived to rush him to the hospital. But on the way to the Emergency Department (ED), his heart stopped a second time and paramedics had to revive him again. Then, in the ED, he flat-lined a third time, and this time he was revived by the ED staff.
Garcia’s doctors cleared a blockage in a main artery of his heart and placed a stent to keep the blood flowing. Remarkably, Garcia said he suffered no permanent damage to his heart.
“My cardiologist told me that my regular exercise regimen kept my heart strong, and that’s why I’m here today,” he said.
Thousands Walk to Raise Funds
This year Garcia will join some 4,000 Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians who will walk one of 15 American Heart Association (AHA) Heart Walks in Northern California. Most of the walks are held in the fall.
The goal is to raise more than $280,000 for the AHA, which funds life-saving research, education, and programs.
Kaiser Permanente Northern California President Janet Liang is a longtime supporter of the AHA and an executive sponsor of the walks.
“We are proud to partner with the AHA because we share a commitment to the prevention and early detection of heart disease and educating people about heart healthy living,” Liang said. “We support the Heart Walks because they get people moving and the funds raised go toward improving the heart health of all Americans.”
The Heart Walks are an annual tradition for Kaiser Permanente, and Curshanda Cusseaux Woods, Northern California Community Relations manager, said the cause resonates with both physicians and employees.
“So many of us are impacted by heart disease. Either we know someone who has some form of heart disease, or we have it ourselves,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how many of our people get involved.”
Extending the Lives of People with Heart Disease
Lazaro Garcia had been involved with the American Heart Association for many years before his own heart attack because he said “the work they do improves and extends the lives of people with heart disease.”
Now, as a heart attack survivor, he is seeing firsthand what extending a life can mean.
In the past year, Garcia celebrated the marriage of his oldest daughter and the birth of his first grandchild. He is expecting the arrival of his second grandchild next month.
And on Sept. 15, Garcia said he came full circle. Nearly a year to the day that he survived three heart attacks, he joined his colleagues and friends at the AHA Heart Walk at the Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Data Center.
When asked what it was like to lead this year’s walk, Garcia simply said “it felt incredible.”