Rocio Gonzalez-Guerra was sleeping and coughing all the time — and she was desperate to find out why. A healthy woman in her early 50s, she loved her work as a chemist, spending time with family, and activities such as exercising and hiking. Her symptoms became so severe that she had to quit her job and she struggled to walk a few steps.
“It was Christmas 2015 when it all began; I didn’t even have the energy to put up a tree,” she says. “Sometimes I would sleep through an entire weekend.”
Treated for ovarian cancer at just 26, Gonzalez-Guerra was tested for cancer (negative), as well as acid reflux and gastritis (both negative). Her doctor prescribed medication, which made her gain an extreme amount of weight. In just 18 months, she became unrecognizable to herself.
“I have beautiful clothes in my closet, but they range in sizes from 10 to 22. That’s how much my weight fluctuated, and that’s how much weight I gained,” she remembers.
Things came to a boiling point in August 2016. Gonzalez-Guerra had gone to dinner with her niece. On the way home, she instructed her niece to continue driving to the ER; she couldn’t breathe and she felt like needles were poking her all over her body. There in the ER, she finally started to get answers.
Doctors diagnosed Gonzalez-Guerra with congestive heart failure (CHF), a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs — because either the heart muscle is weak or a defect in the heart prevents blood from circulating. The cause of Rocio’s CHF was the latter due to a heart valve problem.
She searched online for information about CHF and found an informational seminar hosted by Sharp Memorial Hospital. She attended and met Dr. Mariusz Wysoczanski, medical director of heart failure at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
“I stayed after to talk to him. I cried as I talked, and he listened. He was so understanding and kind. Even though I had previously been told I wasn’t a candidate for surgery, he encouraged me to talk to a cardiac surgeon,” she says.
Gonzalez-Guerra made an appointment with Dr. Seemal Mumtaz, a cardiothoracic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista. Dr. Mumtaz recommended open-heart surgery and told Gonzalez-Guerra she would be a high-risk surgical patient, but felt confident she could successfully perform the procedure, and equally confident that it was the right treatment option. Gonzalez-Guerra had surgery on Jan. 25, which she’ll always remember as the first day of her new life.
“Before I came to Sharp, they never checked my heart because I was so young,” she says. “But I kept asking questions because I knew I would find the answers. I know I have to take things step by step, but I can’t wait to get back to work. I can’t wait to have enough energy to read a book.”
“I would tell anyone else in my situation to talk to your body and get to know it,” she adds. “It will tell you what’s going on if you just listen.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Mumtaz for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.