Nearly 40 years after a life-saving heart procedure, a joyous 100th birthday celebration
Life can be an amazing journey, but it is extra special for Teresa Rodrigues, whose adventure has lasted 100 years and is still going.
That might have seemed unlikely about 40 years ago, when doctors at UCLA Medical Center told her she needed a life-saving heart procedure after a heart attack. But Mrs. Rodrigues has enjoyed another half-century, thanks to her diligence in maintaining her health and the high level of care she’s received from her doctors at UCLA.
Mrs. Rodrigues celebrated her 100th birthday with friends and family recently in Los Angeles. She strolled into the party like someone half her age, and shared her wisdom with the crowd of family and friends.
"I'm truly glad to be able to thank God for today as a day, not for glorification of me, but to thank God for the years that he has given me," she said. She then thanked her doctors for the quality care she has received.
"My doctors have been instrumental in all of this, to take great care of me," she said. "They know the secret to longevity. Young doctors here today, take notes."
Among those applauding Mrs. Rodrigues at her party was Tamer Sallam, MD PhD, one of several cardiologists at UCLA Health caring for her. She thanked him for the care that helped her reach this milestone.
"Ms. Rodrigues is truly special,” Dr. Sallam said. “We are not the reason she is celebrating her momentous 100th birthday. She has an unusual combination of grit and determination, along with a positive outlook and endless optimism about what the future might hold."
Having been Mrs. Rodrigues’ doctor for about six years, Dr. Sallam is quick to point out that the cardiology team at UCLA Health cared for her long before he finished his medical training. She has lived so long that her care has spanned generations of cardiologists and has been passed on from mentors to protégés.
"Most people who have heart attacks in their 40s or 50s don't expect to live another 50 years. Many of those years she was treated by two of my teachers, (UCLA Health cardiologists) Dr. Henry Honda who remains one of her cardiologists and Dr. Larry Yeatman, who is now retired " Dr. Sallam said.
"I may be one of her doctors, but I also consider myself fortunate to be a transient passenger in her amazing life story,” he said. “It is truly an honor and a privilege to care for Mrs. Rodrigues."
After her heart attack and procedure, Teresa Rodrigues also was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and had a pacemaker placed by late UCLA Cardiologist Sam Fujimura, MD, to help with the irregular heartbeat.
"Mrs. Rodrigues had multiple heart issues over the years and for that reason she has seen different specialists. She was always very diligent about coming in for care and following up," Dr. Sallam said. "For instance, when she had treatment-resistant high cholesterol, it took several approaches before we found the right combination to bring it down.”
Sallam said Mrs. Rodrigues is the kind of patient who makes her doctors better.
"People might assume that in medicine there is one-way flow of knowledge from doctor to patient, but this isn't the case. We learn a lot from our patients. Arguably I've learned more from Mrs. Rodrigues than she has learned from me," Dr. Sallam said. "She's a great storyteller, and someone who greatly values learning new information. I told her she has an honorary medical degree from her long experience with us and maintaining her health."
Improved health has given Mrs. Rodrigues more years to spend with the people she loves. She told family and friends at her celebration that this gives her life meaning.
"I appreciate the joy of knowing all of you," Mrs. Rodrigues said, noting that her three sons – along with a long list of friends – have "always been there" for her. “I owe them a great thanks," she said.
Her birthday wish was for friends and family “to be blessed in the coming years" and “to see lots of dancing” at her centennial celebration.
This generous spirit and positivity are great reasons why Mrs. Rodrigues’ medical care has been successful and enabled her to live so long after a heart attack, Dr. Sallam said.
"A heart attack can leave you with strong emotions, like feeling vulnerable, anxious, down or depressed," he said. "But the wonderful story of Mrs. Rodrigues’ teaches us that it also can provide a lot of inspiration and hope."
Tina Daunt is the author of this article.