January 3, 2023

Twice, my ‘Guardian Angel’ kept my Heart Beating

LMT D’Vino Special Heart Section

Jorge Gonzalez never considered himself a candidate for heart disease. An avid cyclist and tennis player, he ate healthy foods, watched his diet, and always kept up with his annual physicals. So when experiencing uncomfortable pain in his chest one afternoon on the tennis court, he didn’t think too much of it as someone who considered himself quite healthy. But he mentioned it to his good friend and cardiologist, Dr. Ricardo Cigarroa, who handed him marching orders to have tests performed in his clinic the following day.

“I recall stepping on the stress test at Dr. Cigarroa’s clinic, and after just a few minutes, Ricardo asked me to step off of the machine,” said Gonzalez. “I turned to him and said, ‘Is that it?’ and in a serious tone, ordered me to go home and talk to my family about needing to have immediate open-heart surgery.”

After further tests at the Cigarroa Clinic, Jorge was diagnosed with severe heart disease. Tests showed several arteries leading to his heart severely blocked or narrowed. He would require six bypasses using healthy blood vessels found elsewhere in his body to bypass the blocked arteries.

“When I saw the results of the stress test that afternoon, my first reaction was to get him home to talk to his family, and then have him return immediately for surgery,” said Dr. Cigarroa. “Because of the severity of what I saw, I just felt it could be minutes before he suffered a massive heart attack.”

At 46 years old and feeling very healthy, the diagnosis seemed a bit odd to him, but he recalled a few members of his family passing away from heart disease, including his paternal grandmother who passed away at the age of 41, and an uncle who was even younger at 36. “That day after hearing the diagnoses from Dr. Ricardo, I went home, sat my family down, and had a serious talk with them,” Gonzalez said. “And while they were very concerned for me, they immediately began pushing me to have the procedure done in San Antonio. My response to them was,

“Why? I have excellent doctors here at home!”

After speaking with his family, Jorge was ready for what needed to be done. Arrangements were made with the Cardiac Thoracic Surgeon in Laredo, and on September 26, 1997, Jorge underwent successful open-heart surgery—only the second to be performed in Laredo.

“Everything went smoothly, and I recall seeing Dr. Cigarroa in my room when I woke up,” Jorge explained. “To do this day, I refer to him as my ‘Guardian Angel.’

But this would not be the last time Jorge’s ‘Guardian Angel’ would detect a problem. Two decades later, in 2017, Dr. Ricardo would yet again find Jorge’s heart in a bit of trouble. “In the 20 years that followed my open-heart surgery, I was very careful with my diet, and I continued exercising religiously,” said Gonzalez. “More importantly, I kept up with my checkups making sure my ticker was in good shape.”

“The stents have been working great so far!” Jorge exclaimed. “I haven’t experienced any problems, and I’m happy to report I am still exercising daily on my elliptical machine and strength training twice a week. The best part—I weigh the same 165 pounds today as I did in high school, and my waste is still a size 32.”  

And while he reflects on his good fortune, he says the outcome could have been different had it not been for his ‘Guardian Angel.’

“I get choked up when thinking how lucky I am to not only have Dr Cigarroa in my life as a friend, but as my doctor. He never left my side during my recovery, even checking on me at my home late at night after finishing his rounds at the hospital. He not only kept my heart beating once—but twice—and for this, I’ll always be grateful.”