Katy man dies at gym but colleagues bring him back to life from sudden cardiac death

A man from Katy is cherishing his second chance at life and loving the holidays more than ever. He collapsed and died at the gym. During the very unusual situation, everything lined up perfectly to bring him back to life.

Alvino Santana was expecting just another day at work when he showed up at L.A. Fitness on October 18 earlier this year. It turned out to be anything but normal for the cardio kickboxing instructor.


Alvino was instructing a class when he went into sudden cardiac arrest and died in the gym.

"All I hear is that I was down. No recollection whatsoever, but I heard that some of the guys over at the gym got to performing CPR on me, slapped the AED on, and my understanding is that I was shocked about four times before they detected some sort of heart rhythm," explains Alvino.

Doctors say that AED, or automated external defibrillator, that was correctly and quickly used, plus quality CPR, made all the difference.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Michael Macris with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center says it’s miraculous that Alvino survived.

"There’s a critical aspect to his recovery, which is that he had what we call a ‘witness arrest’. Even though in general bystander CPR, the cardiac survival is very low. In his case, he was witnessed by people who knew CPR and they had the availability of an AED, an external defibrillator, to shock him back very promptly," states Dr. Macris.

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Alvino is now walking and slowly working out again to build his strength. He realizes the odds were against him since few people are revived from sudden cardiac death. Even though the defibrillator and CPR made his heart start pumping again, the lack of oxygen to his brain was a major concern.

"Initially, it looked like his brain did not come back and he wasn't waking up. He was having seizures or what we call posturing, so they thought he was going to be brain dead, which means he was an organ donor. They called the organ donation people to come and take a look, but by the grace of God or whatever, he woke up and they called off the organ donation.  They called the heart surgeon instead," says Dr. Macris.

When Alvino woke up at Memorial Hermann, he didn’t remember his name and was suffering from something called "The Dory Phase".

"Remember Dory in Finding Nemo? She keeps asking the same question over and over again. He kept asking every five minutes ‘what happened to me, what happened to me?’  He had severe short-term amnesia," explains Dr. Macris.

Alvino admits it was a confusing time for him.

"They came in about 15, 16, or 17 times and they’re asking me, and it was almost like a scene out of a movie. They’d ask me questions and I don’t remember them. I did not remember any single time. Every time that they came in, it was like a new introduction," says Alvino.

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Alvino will wear a portal defibrillator for the next few months, while he heals, that can shock his heart and save him again, if necessary. He wears a vest and carries the box near his hip.  

While in the hospital, he needed open heart bypass surgery and was in the right place for that. Dr. Macris scheduled what he felt was the safest surgery for Alvino's brain and had one more concern during surgery, how to protect the cross tattooed on Victor’s chest?

"I’ve been doing this for a while, over a quarter of a century, and not that I remember every tattoo I’ve ever seen, but I’m really sure I’ve never seen a giant tattoo of a rosary with a double s-curve running down the middle and having to cut through that cross to do the cardiac surgery. I’m really sure I’ve never done that before, so we took this as a sign that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you see a man with a giant rosary on his heart, he’s got some kind of faith somewhere. Happily, it all got put back together in more ways than one, so when you see it, you’ll be convinced of some kind of a Christmas miracle," says Dr. Macris.


Alvino is thankful for the TLC from Dr. Macris and his entire team!

"He did such a great job. He really did not even mess up that tattoo. That’s how good a job he did," says a smiling Alvino. 

Now Alvino is cherishing his second chance at life.

"Waking up every single morning seeing sunlight here and the rain pitter patter out there.  To feel the cold weather sometimes, stuff like that. I mean getting a second chance at life," says Alvino.

An amazing sensation for him.

"Oh my gosh, I’m walking, oh my gosh, I’m driving, oh my gosh, I’m going to my classes again," reflects Alvino. More enjoyable for him now, more than ever, with a bright future to look forward to.

Alvino believes his health problems began with clogged arteries, so he's working on a healthier lifestyle and will continue his cardiac rehab for the next few months, until he fully recovers.

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