Christina Herrera was 44 years old in the spring of 2018 and just days away from attending commencement ceremonies at the Dallas Independent School District high school where she teaches United States history.
While climbing a flight of stairs, Herrera felt overcome with exhaustion. That was the first warning sign that she was having a heart incident.
“I had no idea. My symptoms were not typical. We have been told you will feel a heavy chest pain in the center. That is not what happened,” Herrera said. “It was exhaustion. I was just walking from one fight to the next flight of stairs. I was sweating profusely. I had an upset stomach. So my symptoms were not typical.”
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Begrudgingly, Herrera visited the school nurse.
“It just figured it was an upset stomach. [But] come to find out, she takes my blood pressure and she is immediately wanting to call an ambulance,” Herrera said.
Herrera went to the hospital that day, where doctors told her that two of her arteries were 75% blocked and that she needed to undergo a triple bypass.
“I was just like, ‘do you think I can make it to work on Friday?’ Right after the catheter, he said right away, ‘We need surgery.’ And I was like, ‘We can’t have surgery. I’ve got graduation on Saturday,’ and he was just like, ‘You know what? We’re just gonna not make it to this one,’” Herrera recalled about her conversation with the surgeon.
Herrera is now nearly two years removed from her triple bypass. She has lost weight, due in large part to her commitment to eating better and to exercise.
"I made small little changes in how I cook, it is different from how my mother cooked, so I think that is a plus but just being more aware of how the little things can make a big difference," she said.
Herrera says in hindsight, she should have made life changes after losing her mother and sister to heart disease, both at an early age.
Herrera has become a dedicated runner – she recently completed the 10K portion of the Dallas Marathon and will compete in her first triathlon next month.
The History teacher is an official ambassador for the American Heart Association and is sharing her story with the public in the hope that people – women, in particular – will listen to their bodies in the event of something similar.