Agent thanks doctors for saving his life
MIAMI (WSVN) -- Doctors from South Florida were in a race against time to save the life of a federal agent stationed in Panama after he suffered a massive heart attack.
A federal agent and a family man stationed overseas, Noel Zuniga is all about safety. "I'm a federal agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, NCIS," said Zuniga.
On March 18, Zuniga came close to not making it out of Panama when he said he suffered chest pains after his daily run. The pain spread from shoulder to shoulder. "My primary duty is that our military men and women traveling in and out of Panama stay safe," said Zuniga.
Zuniga was having a heart attack so massive, that Panamanian doctors needed to call the States for help. "I get this call, 'What are you doing this afternoon? Can you get on a plane and go to Panama? We have an emergency over there,'" said University of Miami Hospital Dr. Carlos Alfonso.
The state department was required to assist in getting UM cardiac experts to Panama along with their expertise.
Doctors were armed with an impella pump, a catheter-based device that had to be implanted in Zuniga before he was transferred to Miami at UM Hospital where his life was saved. "500,000 people a year die every year in the U.S. from this heart attack before even getting to the hospital," said Alfonso, "and for the ones who do make it to the hospital, he was in the most dire circumstances in what we call cardiogenic shock with multiple organ failure."
Zuniga's wife Diana was devastated. "I was also given the task of finding his will at one point," she said.
Right now, it's about the rehab phase for this 42-year-old father of three, who credits a team of traveling doctors and the hospital that got him healthy again. "All the staff here was just wonderful," said Zuniga. "I'm not talking about my condition but talking just about life."
UM Hospital was the first to respond to the call for help by the U.S. embassy in Panama. It took officials six hours to mobilize and send a team.
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