Gilberto Guzman, Cardiac Stent Patient

Gilberto Guzman was at a friend's funeral a few years ago when chest pains hit so hard that he knew he needed help and quickly.

Guzman, who is now 58, left the memorial services at St. Monica Catholic Church in Portage and walked to the church office. "The pain was pounding, pounding, pounding," said Guzman, who lives in Portage. "I asked them to call for an ambulance."

He also took a nitroglycerine tablet that he has kept handy since a mild heart attack a few years earlier.

Once the paramedics arrived, they did a quick assessment and put Guzman on a cart and started to move him.

"As they were taking me out I told them to be sure to put me in the right vehicle," Guzman said. "They didn't seem to understand. So I said, put me in the ambulance and not the hearse, which was there for the funeral. "

"One of the paramedics said that I must be doing fairly well since I still had a sense of humor."

Guzman told the paramedics that he wanted to go to Borgess Medical Center -- "the only place I'll go," he said. Once there, Dr. Douglas Wunderly and the Borgess Heart Institute cardiac team found that a major heart artery was completely blocked. After opening the blocked artery with a tiny balloon, Wunderly implanted a metal mesh stent designed to prop the artery open.

After a brief hospital stay, Guzman was back at work, although he was advised to no longer play his beloved softball, which he had played up to six nights a week.

"They told me to slow down," said Guzman, who retired from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth in 2000. "I told them I can't slow down or I'll die."

Today, the native of Edinburg, Texas, works full time as a human resources consultant for a Fortune 500 company, traveling 3,000 to 5,000 miles a month while visiting 82 sites in his southern Michigan region.

And while he takes a handful of pills every morning and night for his heart, cholesterol and diabetes, it's obvious that Guzman continues to live life with energy and zeal. He still plays golf regularly and is the manager for the band Los Bandits.

One of eight children in a migrant worker family, he moved to Southwest Michigan in 1970 when doctors advised him that his grandmother, whose heart was weak, had to leave the south Texas heat.

Married and the father of three grown children, Guzman said he has a family history of heart disease. His father died of a heart attack when he was 63 and a sister died recently of a major heart attack.

He continues to be monitored by his family physician, Dr. Al J. Pinon, and his cardiologist, Dr. Gilbert T. Olivares.