Summer in the Waiting Room: The day that Changed My Life – Part 7 (excerpt #38)

Erica, Sandra, and Marisa (Sandra and Eddie Garcia Family photo) click on image to read all excerpts
Erica, Sandra, and Marisa – 2013
(Sandra and Eddie Garcia Family photo)
click on image to read all excerpts

Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is the 7th of nine parts that details June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.


Marisa intently listened to mom as fear and panic washed over her. She ended the call and explained to Erica what was happening. Fighting back her anxiety demons, she could only think of the worst. Standing in their living room, Shelley and Pancho stood motionless shocked by the sudden news.  Marisa kept asking no one in particular, “Is my dad going to be okay?”

Erica sat silently staring off into the distance. After a brief silence, Shelley called her sisters to share the news, and Marisa and Erica quickly dressed to go to the hospital to be with their mama. Shelley and girls ran out the door to the car for the 30 minute drive to the Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center while Pancho stayed back to get Arachuli and Opie ready to follow along.

Sitting alone in the circular waiting room, Sandra continued to pray. Her lifelong faith in God had always kept her optimistic and balanced. She now faced the most serious crisis of her life, and her faith was intact. She truly believed that all would be well. While she prayed and relied on her faith to keep her from losing hope, the Peralta clan stirred into action to be by her side.

After initially demanding that  Shelley “stop playing around,” Valerie hung up her cell phone and rushed out of the house. Sandra’s parents were getting ready for bed when she called, and immediately changed their plans as did Kim and Miguel. In the waiting room, Sandra continued calling family members: my sisters Barbara and Sisi, and my brother David.

Finding Steve would be another story. He rarely told anyone where he lived, or more accurately, where he was staying.  Steve’s battle with alcohol and anger over the years made him a moving target. Even though he hadn’t had a drink in years, his nomadic lifestyle was well entrenched.

A cousin once jokingly said that “the only way to get a hold of Steve is by smoke signals, and marijuana smoke would get the message through faster.” With the exception of Steve, Sandra had contacted all of our immediate family members. While sitting in the loneliest of places, she was thinking about our life together, the present crisis, and what the future would hold.

Within 45 minutes of that first call to Shelley’s house, Sandra was surrounded by her mom and dad, and her sisters and their families. The Peralta’s were the first to arrive and found Sandra sitting quietly with a shocked look on her face. The three of them embraced and cried. Mrs. Peralta stood back and said, “Don’t worry mi hija, everything is going to be okay.”

The scene repeated itself after each one of her sisters came into the waiting room. Sandra and the girls hugged tightly and sobbed as they held each other. Marisa, always inquisitive, asked question after question. Erica, not saying a word, didn’t outwardly reveal her feelings.

Here was a family that celebrates together, mourns together, goes camping together, argues makes up and argues again while on vacation together. We served as godparents to each other’s kids for baptism and First Communion. Each Peralta grandchild calls at least one of us “nino” or “nina,” and together we’re compadres.

We attend school talent shows, little league games, dance recitals, and swim meets to support our nieces and nephews. On any given Saturday night, we get together at the local Red Lobster, Sizzler, or neighborhood coffee shop for dinner. “Party of 21, please,” one of us will say to an incredulous look from a restaurant host or hostess.

I’m sure there are those who wonder if the closeness of this family is just a show. However, when the family faced the ultimate test as one of us fought for his life on the operating table several rooms away, they all squeezed into the surgery waiting room to support Sandra and the girls. Eddie Velez was out of town on business, so he was the only one of the “21” not able to join the others.

“Party of 19, please.”

The family sat and prayed as the minute and second hands of the plain-looking clock on the wall slowly ticked away. Soon, others started to arrive: George, Will and Juanita Medina, and their kids William and Andrea.

In the operating room, after identifying the location of the blockage, the doctor immediately worked to dissolve the blood clot by inserting a medium weight wire, called an aspiration catheter, into the tube that led to my heart to puncture the clot.

Once the lump of blood had broken up and moved along the bloodstream, Dr. Wong replaced the wire with a balloon-like device and inflated it. He did this at the point where the artery was blocked to temporarily keep the vessel open so he could insert the coronary artery stent, a metal webbed cylinder placed inside the artery to help keep it open permanently.

Pulling the aspiration catheter out of the left side of the heart, Dr. Wong proceeded to repeat the process on the right side to determine if there were any blockages there as well. Finding no additional obstruction, the doctor removed the tube and catheter from my heart down to the groin, out of the incision he cut on the right inner thigh, and sealed of the tiny opening.

The procedure was complete. All had gone well.  It was 9:36 PM, a little more than two hours after Sandra and I showed up for my appointment at the doctor’s office.

Dr. Wong emerged from surgery and walked into the waiting room to tell Sandra and her support system that the procedure was a success and that there were no complications. In his no nonsense manner, he advised her that my heart was badly damaged and it would be a rough road ahead.


To read excerpt #37, click here:

To read all excerpts click here:

Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…

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