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MLHS teacher in critical condition after cardiac arrest
Feb. 10, 2014

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

“Please, Lord, don’t let my mother die.”

The evening of Jan. 9, Agustina Alvarez watched helplessly as paramedics hovered over 49-year-old Adela Alvarez, desperately trying to restart her heart.

Adela, who teaches Spanish at Mayer Lutheran High School (MLHS), had seemed perfectly healthy earlier that day. No one could have predicted her sudden collapse while leading a Zumba fitness class that evening.

Fortunately, Adela’s Zumba students reacted quickly.

“The lady who began CPR on my mom saved her life,” Agustina said, explaining that the woman performed chest compressions for 15 minutes, while another participant assisted by relaying instructions from the 911 dispatcher.

Adela’s first night in intensive care, doctors weren’t sure if she would survive.

“We just prayed and prayed,” Agustina said.

A popular teacher

News of Adela’s cardiac arrest spread rapidly, and many students from MLHS heard about the incident through Facebook, Twitter, phone calls, or text messages.

The morning of Jan. 10, about 70 teenagers arrived on campus early for a student-led prayer meeting.

“[Adela] is a very popular teacher,” MLHS employee Rosie Stern said. “The kids are just devastated.”

MLHS senior Joe Zittergruen has been in Adela’s classes since he was a freshman.

“She’s very bubbly, very personable, loves people, and really puts others first,” Zittergruen said. “It’s hard not having Señora here.”

“She’s like a ray of sunshine,” added fellow MLHS senior Amelia Gustafson.

Classes always included a Spanish Bible verse of the day, and one of Adela’s favorites was Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

A strong Christian faith has guided Agustina, her older brother, Ezekiel, and their father, Ramon, during these difficult weeks of uncertainty.

“The power of prayer with this whole thing has been amazing,” Agustina said.

Critical condition
After the cardiac arrest, Adela was put on a machine to circulate her blood. A clot in her leg was removed via surgery, and she was also given blood thinners.

Adela went into surgery Jan. 14 for a left ventricular assist device, and three days later, her heart was found to be operating at 40 percent. The week before, it had been at less than 10 percent.

Circulation continued to be a challenge, however, and doctors had to amputate Adela’s right leg above the knee.

“At first, they thought they’d have to amputate up to her hip, which would mean she wouldn’t be able to walk again,” Agustina said. “Now, she’ll be able to walk with a prosthetic.”

Although Adela is still in critical condition, she has been moved to a room for less critical patients than she’d been at initially.

Recently, she’s been breathing on her own, and is responding to both English and Spanish requests by squeezing her hand, wiggling her toes, or opening and closing her eyes.

The cause of Adela’s cardiac arrest remains uncertain, and no underlying heart problems were detected.

“Doctors said we’ll probably never find out what happened,” Agustina said. “They also said it’s good she’s young and healthy. That’s what’s saving her life.”

Love from MLHS
As Adela recovers, students and staff at MLHS are doing everything they can to make life easier for the Alvarez family.

At the school’s Jan. 24 basketball game, more than $10,000 was raised in cash and gift cards.

“The community here at Lutheran High really looks out for each other,” MLHS Executive Director Joel Landskroener said. Updates on Adela’s condition are being posted regularly on the school’s Facebook page.

Students have also been raising money by donating scarves, jewelry, and sweaters to Na-Na’s Unforgettable Treasures in Lester Prairie, and The Consignment Shop in Waconia. When customers purchase these certain items, the money helps pay for Adela’s medical expenses.

In addition, money is being raised through a silent auction for a quilt made by MLHS supporter Barb Hoernemann. Bids are being accepted through the end of February.  To learn more, call MLHS at (952) 657-2344.

Secure online donations to the Alvarez family can be made via the MLHS website.

Adela has a CaringBridge site at www.caringbridge.org/visit/adelaalvarez.

Feb. is heart month
For the past 50 years, February has been designated as American Heart Month.

Throughout the month, the American Heart Association aims to raise awareness of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, and more.

Prevention strategies include proper nutrition, physical activity, weight management, stress management, and not smoking. (www.heart.org)

Cardiac arrest info
According to the American Heart Association, cardiac arrest is not same as a heart attack, although a heart attack can cause cardiac arrest.

While heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart, cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions.

Most cardiac arrests are caused by heart conditions, such as scarring from a prior heart attack, a thickened heart muscle (typically due to high blood pressure or heart disease), electrical abnormalities, and blood vessel abnormalities.

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