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"I can't breathe": Guillermo Roman's story


Running has been a huge part of Guillermo Roman’s life ever since he can remember. So, when he qualified for the 2011 Boston Marathon, he was ecstatic. Soon after crossing the finish line with a 3h 32m time, he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. He was taken to Tufts Medical Center and was given life-saving treatment by Dr. Navin Kapur. 5 years later to the date, he visited Dr. Kapur, Dr. Michael Kiernan and the Tufts Medical Center's CardioVascular Center team to thank them for saving his life. Read his amazing story below.

Guillermo's story

“My name is Guillermo Roman and I live in Deerfield Beach, Florida, with my wife Liana. We have two sons, Giuliano and Gabriel, and a daughter in law, Luciana. I am currently semiretired after a career in marketing of about 30 years. I spent most of my career working for PepsiCo, specifically Gatorade Sports Drink. In 1996, when I was hired to work with Gatorade, it was a dream come true as I have always been a huge sports fan. Working for a brand like Gatorade gave me a great opportunity to support athletes everywhere with such a fantastic brand.

My career with Gatorade took me to four different countries on three different continents. After four years working with Gatorade in Puerto Rico I was transferred to Italy in the early 2000s and we spent about three and a half years in Treviso and Milan. My main assignment there was two help develop Gatorade in the European mediterranean markets. After the assignment in Europe, I was transferred with my family to Sao Paulo, Brazil. We lived in Sao Paulo for five years. Brazil was a very rewarding professional and personal experience. We made very good friend there, plus that is where my son Giuliano and Luciana met. Professionally, we relaunched Gatorade with fantastic results. Growing the brand +20% for two consecutive years.

The final position I held with Gatorade was as a Senior Director for Multicultural Marketing in the United States based out of Chicago. Supporting and growing the brand in key Hispanic Markets across the U.S.

My love for running

I have always loved running. When I was in 7th grade my brother bought me my first pair of running shoes. Since then, I started running mostly 5Ks and 10Ks. I fell in love with long distance running in the late 90s, and ran my first marathon while living in Sao Paulo. I traveled all the way from Sao Paulo to Paris in 2004 with my son Giuliano and many of my friends for “Le Marathon de Paris”. It was a wonderful experience and after this I was hooked!

After the Paris Marathon I ran three Chicago Marathons, the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego, the Rotterdam Marathon in the Netherlands, the Disney Marathon in Orlando, FL (which I ran with my brother Carlos) and two Boston Marathons (in 2010 and 2011). Nine Marathons in total all of them awesome. But none closer to my heart, figuratively and literally, than the Boston Marathons.

Not every athlete can run the Boston Marathon because they have to qualify with certain times in order to participate. I qualified for the Boston Marathon with my time at the Chicago marathon and then when I completed the first Boston Marathon I was able to qualify for the 2011 edition of the Boston Marathon. There is a special sense of accomplishment when you qualify and participate in a Boston Marathon. It was my goal to keep participating in the Boston Marathon for as long as I could. That was the plan.

2011 Boston Marathon

I went to Boston on April 2011 with the clear goal of qualifying for the 2012 edition. I was still working with Gatorade (PepsiCo) and was supposed to fly to Dallas right after the marathon.

I remember it was quite a breezy day and for the first 18 miles (the marathon is 26.2 miles) it was particularly tough. Heartbreak hill was extremely difficult that day. After the hills however, the wind was on our back and helped us tremendously. I finished in 3h 32m which was a minute or so over my qualifying time. But I felt really proud and happy that I was able to complete my second Boston Marathon.

I would rarely go to a marathon on my own I would always bring either one of my sons or the whole family and we would add some days and make a vacation of it. This time, however, because of my hectic work schedule, I came alone.

I cant breathe

I remember going to a tent right after I finished the Marathon, to get a quick massage. I talked to Liana, my wife, and Gabriel. Told them I was feeling fine and that I would go to the hotel after the massage and call them from there. I collapsed right after talking to them and blacked out.

The next time I opened my eyes was four days later and I was at the CVC Intensive Care Unit at Tufts Medical Center. Paramedics at the tent immediately started helping me they later told doctors that I kept telling them that I couldn’t breathe, but I have no memory of anything that happened from the moment I collapsed until four days later when I awoke. I do remember, however, the first thing I asked the doctors as soon as I awoke “Will I be able to run again?” I did not know the severity of what happened, and the doctors were surprised and looked at me like I was a little nuts.

Guillermo Roman and his cardiologist, Dr. Navin Kapur at Tufts Medical Center - 5 years after his VAD implant at the Boston hospital.When they took me to Tufts, Dr. Kapur and his team determined I had huge blockages in my arteries and that I had suffered a major heart attack. At some point while at the hospital, I went into cardiac arrest and they had to revive me for about five minutes. Dr. Kapur and the team inserted stents into the blocked artery which allowed blood to flow to my heart again, saving my life. Dr. Kapur treated me with an Impella Axial Flow Catheter and IntraAortic Balloon Pumping.

Dr. Michael S. Kiernan called my wife later that night to ask her if she could travel right away from Florida because my chances of making it to the next day were not great. It was late and she and my sons were not able to fly to Boston that night. They made it early the next day and thank God I was still there (and I still here five years later!).

After 10 days at the CVC ICU I was discharged and referred to Dr. Alan D. Heldman at University of Miami Hospital in Florida. Five weeks later I had a double Bypass Surgery in Miami.

Dr. Kapur, a cardiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, poses with a patient and his family.The staff at Tufts CVC is truly special

I will always be grateful to Dr. Kapur, Dr. Kiernan, all the nurses and the full staff at Tufts CVC. They were and continue to be truly special. Those were difficult days for me and my family but we still remember how wonderful everyone was with us.

Going back for this year’s Marathon was such a fantastic experience. This was exactly five years after my last marathon and the heart attack that almost killed me. Thanks to these great doctors and nurses I was able to walk out of there alive and today I’m living life to the fullest.

Seeing Dr. Kapur and some of the nurses after five years, taking pictures, hugging them and being able to thank them in person was so great!

Whats next

Today, I maintain a very active lifestyle. I walk every day, 8 to 10 miles. And sometimes as many as 15. I maintain a strict diet to control my cholesterol and weight. And I have started thinking about slowly begin to run again. My doctors in Miami are supportive of this and I am very excited to start running 5k’s and 10k’s. And who knows, maybe in a few years I will go back to Boston to again say hello to my pals at Tufts and run the Boston marathon!!" 

- Guillermo Roman