Noel Zuniga

When Noel Zuniga, a father of three and an NCIS agent assigned as the Resident Agent in Charge of the Force Protection Detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Panama, suffered an acute heart attack after finishing his daily run, the doctors at Hospital Nacional acted fast.

They snaked a tube to his heart which helped them identify where the blockage was and then used a stent to keep the artery open so blood could flow around the clot. It was not enough, however, and when the 42-year-old’s heart later went into cardiogenic shock causing his organs to fail, he was given a 20 percent chance of survival.

Noel’s colleagues at the embassy connected with Professors at the University of Miami Hospital who recommended inserting a strong pump, an advanced procedure they felt would save Noel’s life. Within hours, a two-person medical team had been dispatched to implant an Impella pump, a device that can shoulder half or more of a heart’s work without requiring open-chest surgery.

The pump is powered by a tiny motor that is less than an inch long and thinner than a pen, and the University of Miami Hospital had been the primary site for a clinical trial of this device. The Impella pump, a significant advancement in medical technology, took over many vital functions giving Zuniga’s heart a chance to rest and ultimately saving his life.

Zuniga has since returned to work full time without any restrictions and lives a normal, active life, only requiring routine six month check-ups with his cardiologist.