Each month, we're highlighting a Stroke or Heart Disease survivor in the San Antonio area. If you'd like to volunteer, or have a survivor we can highlight, please email us
A family man who has been married for nearly 50 years, has four daughters, eight granddaughters and two great grandchildren, Robert Prince describes his life as excellent and rewarding. His positive attitude is infectious, and he aims to inspire those around him and share the life lessons he has learned.
His greatest gift sprang from his biggest tragedy when his daughter, Stephanie, saved his life.
Prince was not a stranger to heart disease. In 2004, he had a pacemaker implanted and mitral valve replacement. But, nothing prepared him and his family for March 2010 when Prince had a cardiac arrest at his home in Universal City, Texas.
A typical evening watching his grandchildren while his wife played bingo, Prince began to feel stabbing chest pains around dinner time. His daughter Stephanie, who had just happened to return to the house to pick up a forgotten homework assignment for her niece, was just walking out again when her niece screamed, “Papa!”
Stephanie rushed to his side and immediately told her nieces to bring the phone so she could call 9-1-1. While on the phone with 9-1-1 operators, Stephanie cleared Prince’s airway and began chest compressions. Stephanie was not CPR trained, but she did have a friend who was a paramedic and remembered some of the steps to take when giving someone CPR, including calling 9-1-1 and pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest.
What seemed like an eternity, Stephanie explained, was less than 10 minutes, but paramedics arrived and took over chest compressions. The paramedics shocked him several times and gave him medications. Stephanie and the girls began to pray that their father and grandfather would survive.
Prince was rushed to the hospital. The doctors explained that since Prince had aspirated, this was a big concern because it could lead to other complications. Prince was eventually diagnosed with aspirated pneumonia and stayed in a drug-induced coma and on a heart pump for two weeks.
No one could predict whether Prince would have brain damage or stroke.
“It was scary because we weren’t sure whether he would be the same when he woke up,” Stephanie said. “The doctors could not stabilize his blood pressure for the next two weeks and every time they would remove the ventilation his blood pressure would rise.”
Prince said that his first conscious recognition when he opened his eyes was Stephanie looking right at him. Stephanie told him “Dad, you’ve had a cardiac arrest and you are at Northeast Methodist ICU.” She and the doctors kept telling him not to speak.
“But, of course, dad didn’t listen and his first comment was a sarcastic statement I can’t repeat, but we knew then he would be just fine.”
Prince was confused and still does not remember much of what happened to him that day and for several weeks following. But, he thanks the paramedic, physicians and especially his daughter for saving his life. The Prince family has been deeply affected by heart disease and stroke, but they continue to strive for better health and make better choices.
“The emotional support of family is huge,” Prince said. “And, volunteering and helping educate others about heart disease is critical to my recovery. I’m proud to be that success story and share it with others. If you’re given that second chance, fight for a healthier life.”
Heart disease runs in the Prince family. His daughter Stephanie was diagnosed in her late ‘20s with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She has since lost 50 pounds with lap band surgery and has made choices that would improve her health with her prediabetic diagnoses. Mrs. Prince is a diabetic and has had a stroke, but she too has taken a second chance to get healthier.
“After my cardiac arrest, I received a pacemaker defibrillator. As I was recovering in a nursing home, I saw so many people who were depressed, and I did not want to be depressed,” Prince said. “I learned that stress is a big contributor to heart disease and so I now try to keep my stress levels down. I maintain an active lifestyle where I take care of my two young granddaughters who keep me moving, and I don’t smoke or drink. I’m just so thankful for the life I’ve been given. Today, I am a heart disease survivor who has lived life without regrets, but I owe it to others to give back.”
When Rachel was born in 1973, the doctors told her mother she would likely not live very long. Rachel was born with a rare form of heart disease Tetralogy of Fallot in a small town in Arkansas. Three-fourths of her heart needed to be reconstructed. And, in 1973, there was not much hope given to families whose children had the diagnosis. Her mom was her biggest champion and fought for her daughter to get some of the leading treatment of the time. She had several open heart surgeries before her 18th birthday, which she was not expected to celebrate because of her serious diagnosis.
When Rachel got married, and yearned for children, the doctors did not give her much hope. Because of her heart disease, childbirth would be risky. Twelve years ago, her daughter was born and her son is now 2 years old. Having her children, whom she refers to as miracles in themselves, did put stress on her heart. She underwent surgery after both births, but Rachel was strong enough to realize the complications she would endure, and her children are living proof that miracles do happen.
Rachel refers to her heart as her Frankenstein heart, after 6 major surgeries, her heart consists of various original and mechanical parts to make it function. She credits her life to the sheer determination and love of her family, the life-saving research that has produced new technologies and the grace of God, along with the amazing expertise of her medical teams.
Rachel reminds people that while she did not have a choice but to have heart disease because she was born with it. She must live a heart-healthy life; most people do have a choice and can make the healthy lifestyle choices that will keep them out of the hospital and off the operating table.
In late 2006, after an ongoing battle with congestive heart failure, Salina Rivera was told she had only a month to live and only one hope for survival: a Left Ventricular Assist device (LVAD). At the time, the LVAD was experimental and pending FDA approval.
But Salina was a warrior. At the recommendation of her cardiologists, she had the LVAD implanted directly below her heart. For the next two years, Salina refused the antidepressants often prescribed to patients of open-heart surgery and instead empowered herself to live a healthy life. She relied greatly on the American Heart Association’s online patient resources to learn as much as she could about her condition. Within two years, the LVAD was removed.
Now well-versed and with her own functioning heart, Salina is excited to speak at American Heart Association events to inspire others to take control of their health. And due to continued advancements, the LVAD is no longer experimental.
As a dedicated volunteer with the American Heart Association’s annual Vestido Rojo event, Monica Bonilla has always believed in our mission.
One weekend in early 2009, this belief in our mission hit home. On Saturday, Bonilla’s mother learned at Vestido Rojo that taking an aspirin at the onset of a stroke can help reduce brain tissue loss. The next day, when she thought she might be having a stroke, Bonilla’s mother took an aspirin and called her daughter, who feared the worst and quickly got her to the hospital. The doctor who treated her mother for the stroke and gave her medication that reversed its effects later shared that it was likely the aspirin that saved her life! Without the AHA, she wouldn’t have taken the aspirin.
To attend an AHA event in the San Antonio area and learn how you too can save lives, visit our website at heart.org/sanantonio