She's Still Here, Standing Strong

Zuleyma — raising their children after her husband’s passing — fights life-limiting heart failure with HeartMate 3.

Healthy Heart|May.25, 2022

Christopher Manfred Jr. is just 4 years old.

So young to be the man of the house.

It’s a big job for a little guy. Happens when cancer takes one parent and life-limiting heart failure threatens another. But he’s up for it.

How do we know the timber of C.J., as he’s called by his family?

We know his family tree. 

The Weight of the Wait
The Weight of the Wait

Chris, his father. Chris Sr. Their guardian. They met in 2011 and welcomed C.J. in 2018. While Zuleyma was in the hospital with late-stage, refractory left ventricular heart failure following the birth of their daughter Savanna Marie in 2019, Chris handled everything. Every. Thing. He took care of the kids, the house, his extended family. Indefatigable. Tireless. Constant. “He had the strength to take care of the children while my daughter was in the hospital,” said Margarita, his mother-in-law. “I was going to help him, but he told me to rest myself.”

And there’s Zuleyma, C.J.’s mom. Anything short of super mom does not fly. Her life is built around her family and friends. Claudia, her friend of 20 years, says Zuleyma is “always smiling, always happy, somebody that you can count on.” Her older sister Sara, describes her as “the one that makes everybody feel good” and says “she’s such a good mom.” And her mother Margarita said she has been “happy since she was a child.”

So, yeah, we know Margarita and Sara and more.

And Chris? He’s still their guardian angel.

“He was an amazing guy, amazing man,” Zuleyma said.

The cancer that started in his 20s proved too much. March 27, 2021. The day C.J. became the man of the house. It’s still hard to talk about.

“I will always remember him,” Zuleyma said. “He was a really good father. I am really happy that he got to see his daughter. He got to hold her and experience her first steps. He was really funny. He always had something nice to say. And when he got sick — and I was getting sick — I picked him up and he picked me up. We saw each other and said, ‘We have to keep going.’ ”

It’s what you do.

It’s what Chris did every moment he could.

It’s what Zuleyma still does, even while battling her own kind of heart failure.

She’s 38, a single mother to two beautiful tikes who lost their father and can’t bear the thought of the same happening to her. But Zuleyma’s heart is weak. That hasn’t changed, even as the world has piled up sorrow. And while new hearts are scarce, it’s more complicated for Zuleyma.

I wasn't able to receive a heart transplant because I have high antibodies,” Zuleyma said. “The doctors didn't want my body to reject it.”

After another visit to the ER, her doctors suggested HeartMate 3.

“I was skeptical,” Zuleyma said flatly.

Status quo was not an option. Zuleyma’s heart needed help for her sake. For C.J. and Savvy’s. For everyone. One singular thought broke through her hesitation: “I want to go home. I want to see my family. I miss my kids.”

Her doctors implanted a HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) — commonly called a heart pump — in December 2020. It assists Zuleyma’s heart as it pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout her body, allowing her to get back to her daily activities to be the mom she wants — and needs — to be for C.J. and Savannah.

“I feel amazing,” Zuleyma said. “I feel great. We play. We go out for walks. We go to the park.”

“It has given my daughter a new chance to live and be together with us,” Margarita said.

“She's a fighter,” said Claudia, her friend from high school. “She is fighting for her kids and showing everybody around her that you cannot just give up.”

“I try not to think, ‘Why me?’ ” Zuleyma said. “I learned from my kids to not lose that joy.”

For as hard as the winds have blown against their family and those closest to her, they all remain rooted in each other. It’s engrained. For those who count on her, Zuleyma radiates that warm goodness in life, that joy that she has not lost. As she helps others, HeartMate 3 is there to help her.

She’s learned a lot from her experiences, knowledge she’s putting to good use as a health and wellness coach. And she volunteers at the Los Angeles chapter of the American Heart Association.

“I want to inspire someone, to make a change in someone's life,” Zuleyma said. “A smile back at someone you don't know. They might need that smile.”

They could use a smile back. C.J., 4, and Savvy, 2, not even yet in school. Zuleyma not even yet 40.

She’s got a long road ahead raising them: The little man of the house and his adorable little sister. It’s a big job. The good news is she’s here for it. They’re going to get there. Together. That’s their timber.


These materials are not intended to replace your doctor’s advice or information. For any questions or concerns you may have regarding the medical procedures, devices and/ or your personal health, please discuss these with your physician.

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Brief Summary: Prior to using these devices, please review the Instructions For Use for a complete listing of indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, potential adverse events and directions for use.

Indications: The HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist System is indicated for providing short- and long-term mechanical circulatory support (e.g., as bridge to transplant or myocardial recovery, or destination therapy) in adult and pediatric patients with advanced refractory left ventricular heart failure and with an appropriate body surface area.

Contraindications: The HeartMate 3 Left Ventricular Assist System is contraindicated for patients who cannot tolerate, or who are allergic to, anticoagulation therapy.

Adverse Events: Adverse events that may be associated with the use of the HeartMate 3™ Left Ventricular Assist System are: death, bleeding, cardiac arrhythmia, localized infection, right heart failure, respiratory failure, device malfunctions, driveline infection, renal dysfunction, sepsis, stroke, other neurological event (not stroke-related), hepatic dysfunction, psychiatric episode, venous thromboembolism, hypertension, arterial non-central nervous system (CNS) thromboembolism, pericardial fluid collection, pump pocket or pseudo pocket infection, myocardial infarction, wound dehiscence, hemolysis (not associated with suspected device thrombosis) or pump thrombosis.