Katherine Lepri/Contributing Writer
Every 39 seconds another human life is lost to heart disease, according to heart.org.
Olga Hernandez almost became one of those statistics.
“One day I had chest pains; it was a Sunday night,” said Hernandez, assistant director of community relations and special events. “The next day the doctor heard my heart and immediately knew something was wrong, and that afternoon my life changed.”
Hernandez’s active life came to an abrupt standstill when she found out she was a victim of heart disease, just like many in her family, including her parents and aunt. Unlike her mom and aunt, she survived the ordeal and has since recovered.
One year ago, Hernandez was physically incapable of exercising due to her illness. This past Saturday, however, she walked in the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk, a 5K around the University that last year brought over 10,000 participants, according to event organizers.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of walkers, President Mark Rosenberg welcomed everyone to the Modesto Maidique Campus that morning and dedicated the University’s participation to Hernandez.
Hernandez, who has been a part of the FIU community for over 25 years, listened to Rosenberg as he spoke of her journey from diagnosis to recovery. Her eyes welled up with tears as he addressed her from the podium.
“I’m really emotional about all this,” she said, crying. “I’m very humbled.”
The National Institution of Health says a person is at greater risk of heart disease if they have family members who had heart disease at an early age.
“It’s usually genetic,” Hernandez said. “My parents had it. My grandfather died. His sister died. I thought I was going to someday have heart disease.”
Hernandez considers her early life the typical story of an exiled family coming from Cuba to Florida in the 1960s. She was not only the primary caretaker for her parents when they became ill, but it prepared her for her own battle with the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease causes almost 25 percent of deaths in the United States. Nearly 700, 000 people died in 2008.
The purpose of the Heart Walk was to raise money for research, spread awareness and educate the public on how to be proactive.
According to the American Heart Association, being educated about the personal risk for heart disease can help prevent the illness.
“It was a sharp pain in the middle of my chest, and it radiated to the middle of my back; it was a continuous deep, sharp pain,” Hernandez explained. “It hurt to the point that I cried. It was intense.”
The coordinator of the office of community relations, Amanda Garcia, said that over 500 students pre-registered for the walk, the largest number of students to get involved in the last three years.
“Everyone has been so great,” Hernandez said. “This is a turning point for me.”
As she neared the finish line, a group of her co-workers walked alongside her clapping and cheering.
She then slowly raised her arms in victory, looked up to the sky and smiled.
“It feels wonderful,” Hernandez exclaimed. “Next year I will be back.”