Claudia's Story: A heart attack survivor


She listened to what her body was telling her and never gave up.

February 6, 2023

Growing up, my family moved to the U.S. from Mexico when I was about five years old. My parents divorced when I was 10, and my mom worked endless hours to provide for my brother and me. My mom passed away when I was 21, but she continues to be an inspiration and my guiding light in all that I do. I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by my brother, dad and bonus family (brother, sister, stepmom), and amazing friends, so I have never been alone. I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't faced these challenges.

As an undergrad, my goal was to become a medical doctor, but to do so, I needed to do scientific research. I found a lab working on genetics testing and was hooked. Years later, I am now a scientist for Roche Diagnostics. I’m passionate about equal care for all people, in and out of the healthcare sphere. When I’m not working, my world revolves around my dogs, Athena and Frizzle - or as I often call them, “the girls.” We take lots of walks and hikes. I just love animals; I feed the birds, cats or anything else roaming around in my neighborhood. My dream for retirement is to move to an animal sanctuary in Southern Utah. But when my girls aren’t involved, I’m typically with friends and their kids, who are like family.


My first cardiac event


I went in to see my primary care doctor for a preventive check-up. She was aware of my family history of cardiac events at a young age. She wanted to keep an eye on it and for me to let her know if anything ever felt off.

Fast-forward to December 2020, and I was out walking the girls. Around the 2-mile mark, I felt like I was having a panic attack, but something was very different.

Only 52% of women reported that chest pain was a symptom of their heart attack. – American Heart Association1

After I felt more stable, I jumped in the car and called my primary care doctor. She told me that, based on my family’s history of heart problems, I needed to go to the emergency room. I didn’t think it was a big deal, as I suffer from anxiety; I just thought I was stressed out.

When I went to the ER, my blood pressure and heart rate were extremely high, so they decided to admit me. They ran all types of diagnostic tests, and after five days in the cardiac intensive care unit (ICU), I still had no answers.

The advice I was given was, “You need to lose weight and increase your anxiety medication.”

I know I’m hysterical, and I know I’m fat. But this was something very different. I have been living in this body all my life, and this is the first time I’ve been feeling this way.


Six weeks of living in fear


After I was released, I was terrified. I had just spent five days in ICU, where people were extremely ill due to COVID-19. And my biggest fear was, I’m going to die.

When I left the ICU, it was like my life stopped. I couldn’t do many things, like walk the girls, drive for long periods or go to the grocery store because I physically felt off and was scared my heart could explode at any minute. My brother actually moved in with me because my fear was that if I had a heart attack, no one would find me, as I lived alone.

Two weeks later, I was able to get an appointment with another cardiologist because I wanted a second opinion. He understood where I was coming from. During my visit, he said, "OK, I believe you. I know what's happening. We just need to see more." So I began cardiac rehab.

I probably went to the ER six more times after starting cardiac rehab. It felt like I had a “frequent shopper” card to the ER. Again, the diagnostics were always negative. My blood pressure and heart rate might be a little off. It was disheartening.


A heart attack detected


One day at cardiac rehab, I was warming up on the bike and all of a sudden, it hit me. My feet felt like they were concrete blocks, and it felt like there was an elephant on my chest. As I was hooked up to the EKG machine, a nurse immediately called for me to be taken to the ER.

My new cardiac doctor ordered a more sensitive diagnostic test than the ones previously given to me. This test showed that, yes, absolutely, I was having a heart attack.

Immediately, I was taken to the heart catheterization area. It turns out that the LAD (widowmaker) was 85% blocked, and the RCA was 75-85% blocked. Thankfully, my doctor placed two stents and a balloon. He saved my life.

The LAD (Left Anterior Descending Artery) and RCA (Right Coronary Artery) are blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. When blocked by plaque buildup, the heart cannot efficiently receive oxygen.


A sound body, and soon a sound mind


After the craziest two months, I knew my heart was better than ever, but mentally it took a toll on me. It’s the stuff people don’t talk about that was hard for me to process. It was very difficult to find happiness in a lot of things. Even the stuff I loved, I couldn’t do.

For two months, my voice wasn’t heard in healthcare settings, which was frustrating and made me feel crazy. I used to be a professor, and I still educate a lot around the country. I’m spoiled, in a way, that people just listen to what I have to say. So when no one listened to me, I was extremely frustrated. I found that women are much more likely to be dismissed because the symptoms are not “textbook” in nature like those men experience. That makes sense because, even to this day, I still do not know what chest pain or radiant heat down the arm feels like.

But I’m lucky in many ways. I was privileged enough to be able to go to the ER multiple times and request a second opinion and additional testing, including a more sensitive biomarker test. I had an amazing therapist who helped me cope. And I’m so thankful for all the support from my family, especially my friends and the kids, Judd and Dorian.

Now two years later, I’m back and better than ever. I have my routines back, I am stronger than ever and I trust my body more. I’m doing things I never knew were possible, and this is all due to listening to my body: When something felt off, I got it checked.


Disclaimers: Claudia Marquez is a Roche employee. Claudia's testimonial is offered voluntarily without payment and reflects her honest opinions, findings and experience. This content is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or another qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.



1. Last accessed February 2023.