Heart to heart: Teacher heals from open heart surgery, lasting effects

Megan Krenek

Shooting pain in the arm and jaw. A general feeling of being ill at ease. Tightness in the chest. Having a healthy heart is something a lot of people bypass and take for granted. It is one of the most important organs and should be cared for. Another important thing to watch out for are the signs of a heart attack. Without knowing the signs, a person could be paralyzed or even die. Luckily for fashion design teacher Rhonda Cupit, she recognized the signs and knew to tell someone to go to the hospital when she felt pain in her jaw and arm.

“I felt yucky,” Cupit said. “I was sitting at my desk and someone walked in asking me to cover a class. The bell rang and I went to my other classroom and I texted Sharonda Williams, the cosmetology teacher. I told her that I didn’t feel good and she came to my room. She usually doesn’t have her phone on her, but she did then. She asked if I was okay and at that time I got a sharp pain in my jaw and she asked if I needed to go to the ER.”

There are so many what if’s that could have happened. Cupit texted Williams at the right time, Williams saw her text, and Cupit was at school in a hallway where everyone was attentive enough to check on her. Amidst all the stress of whether Cupit was going to be okay, she was thinking about Williams and not getting sick in her car.

“I was hoping I didn’t get sick in Mrs. Williams car and then I felt bad because I asked her to go to Scott and White,” Cupit said. “St. Joseph’s is close to the school, but my doctors are at Scott and White. I felt bad and I hoped I wouldn’t die on her because then she’d really feel bad.”

Williams rushed into action and took her fellow teacher to the hospital. Williams even used her own teachings to get Cupit to safety.

“I was trying to keep calm and make sure she stayed calm I could get her to the hospital so she didn’t have a heart attack or pass out in the car,” Williams said. “I wanted to be safe trying to get there. I just wanted her to be okay. I teach my students to be calm and I had to make sure I was calm so she would stay calm.”

Cupit had quite the scare, but everyone learned from this, including Williams who has since paid more attention to the people around her in case this happens again.

“The situation made me more aware,”  Williams said. “I felt like I was aware of people all the time, but it pushed me to pay more attention and make sure others pay attention to their bodies. Listen to your body, take care of yourself, and make sure I do that myself too. We get overwhelmed really fast and sometimes we need to stop and take a deep breath because life can change instantly.”

Although at first Cupit was scared after seeing her family members go through the same thing, she was on the path of recovery.

“When I got to the hospital, they took me back immediately and they did bloodwork,” Cupit said. “The first bloodwork didn’t show anything, so they just put me in a room and they were going to watch me overnight. When they did the second bloodwork came back it indicated that I had a heart attack.”

The doctors moved quickly to make sure they Cupit got the help she needed.

 “They sent me immediately to the heart cath lab and I asked them if I could leave my contacts in so I could watch because my dad had a heart cath,” Cupit said. “The last thing I saw was the heart cath. Then I woke up two days later. The heart surgery happened and then the doctor said ‘you’re getting up today,’ and I felt like I couldn’t do it.”

After the procedure several people came by the hospital to check on her to make sure she was doing okay.

“I went and saw her when she was still in ICU,” fellow teacher Rebecca Dominy said. “It was difficult to see her there, but I was glad that she was healing and that the doctors were able to do what they needed to do.”

After the heart attack, Cupit knew she had to make some changes in her life such as how she ate and the exercises she did. Not only did she do it for her heart, but for the first time in a while she did it for herself. She didn’t get the full recovery she needed so she took matters into her own hands. 

“It took me over a year to feel better, now three years out I have started walking,” Cupit said. “I’ve lost 26 pounds since school started. I’ve started trying to watch what I eat and portion sizes. Although I think losing weight has helped, I think the best thing about walking is less stress. It’s relaxing and it’s just doing something for me. After having five kids there wasn’t a lot of Rhonda.” 

While she was asleep for the two days she experienced one of the most rewarding things in that situation. Similar to when a person is in a coma, she could hear things she did not know, like translate a language she didn’t know.

“One of the neatest things to happen was I remember thinking I was dreaming that someone was speaking in Spanish and I understood it,” Cupit said. “I haven’t taken Spanish since high school, and I thought wow I remember my high school Spanish this is cool. Later after I woke up my sister-in-law told me she prayed for me in Spanish.”

After everything happened, Cupit realized the value of her life and has been more confident since the event occured.

“I am more outspoken,” Cupit said. “I used to stuff everything down and just let people say and do whatever and not voice my opinion. Now I’m more likely to tell them what I think.”