“We missed you Ms. Tucker!”
The surprise greeting startled Christina Tucker as she walked into the room.
“What are all you guys doing here?” she asked.
On a television screen in front of her were 130 of her students from Eagle Ridge Middle School in Rio Rancho New Mexico.
They had huddled together in front of a webcam in the school’s library to see Tucker, a seventh grade science-life teacher at the middle school, who has been recovering from a heart transplant at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, more than 650 miles away from home.
“You guys are so cute,” she said.
Christina Tucker suffers from a genetic heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomypathy (HCM). The lethal condition can cause the heart muscle to thicken and is a prevalent cause of death in individuals under the age of thirty, because symptoms are often unrecognized.
The simplest day-to-day tasks were a burden for her heart.
“Just walking on the treadmill for two minutes, I would feel like I have to pass out,” she said.
The condition forced Tucker to take leave from her teaching position in April.
After being diagnosed with end stage heart failure a year and a half ago, Tucker traveled across the country seeking medical attention, and was guided to the care of the heart transplant team at Baylor Dallas.
During recovery following her transplant, her students eagerly chimed in through a video chat to ask her questions.
“Did it hurt?” asked one student.
“How does it feel?” asked another.
“It’s a nice strong heart, and it feels good,” replied Tucker.
One seventh grader blurted out, “I miss you Ms. Tucker,” which brought the 31-year-old to tears.
“I teach for a reason. I love kids, so not being there is probably the worst struggle, but I’m doing this to be able to be there in the long road,” Tucker said. “I want to start living my life. I want to start doing the things I’ve never done before.”
After Tucker completes the cardiac rehabilitation program at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, she plans to get back to the thing she loves most—teaching.