When Cristiane Chaves crossed the finish line of the 2021 Boston Marathon, she experienced all the emotions — relief, joy, pride — that courses through runners when they see their families at the end of the 26.2-mile race. But Cristiane felt an extra surge of gratitude when she saw her 8-year-old son Rafael. Her pregnancy with him inspired her to run this race: in 2012, she had a stroke during her first trimester, and she credits the Massachusetts General Hospital emergency department (ED) with saving both their lives.
“If it wasn’t for Mass General and the ED, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Cristiane says. “Neither would my son. It’s hard to put into words how thankful I am. They gave me a chance to live again.”
After running virtually in 2020 and in person in 2021, Cristiane is lacing up her shoes again to raise funds for Mass General’s emergency department.
“I feel grateful to be able to do something for Mass General because I know this situation can happen to anyone at any time,” Cristiane says. “I feel very emotional while I’m running and training. I’m here, I’m healthy, my son is healthy and I’m going to try my best.”
A Safe Space in a Scary Moment
Cristiane and her husband were expecting their fourth child when she started feeling unwell. When her husband noticed her left arm limp at her side and Cristiane said her face was numb, he knew it was more than typical pregnancy symptoms. He drove her straight to Mass General.
What stood out most for Cristiane at the emergency department was the caring treatment she received as soon as she came through the door. As a Brazilian immigrant, Cristiane says she sometimes encounters cold unfriendliness in institutional settings, but she experienced only warmth at Mass General.
“I barely finished telling them my symptoms and my last name, and they had me right away in a wheelchair and working to find the cause of the stroke,” Cristiane says. “They treated me with so much love. It helped me to not be scared. I felt safe.”
A Condition Uncovered
Mass General’s doctors discovered that Cristiane had a patent foramen ovale (PFO), a hole in her heart that didn’t close properly in infancy. The small flaplike opening is between the right and left upper chambers of the heart and occurs in about one in four people, though most with the condition never know they have it.
In Cristiane’s case, a blood clot in her leg traveled to the PFO and then onto her brain, triggering the stroke. She stayed in the hospital for a week, then took blood thinners for the remainder of her pregnancy.
Cristiane gave birth to a healthy boy in June 2013. She continued the blood thinners for 60 days to prevent another stroke, then Mass General’s team performed surgery to close the PFO. They took a less invasive route by performing the procedure through an artery in Cristiane’s leg, reducing her recovery time so she could be at home with her new baby.
Taking Action, One Step at a Time
The decision to run the Boston Marathon and raise funds for Mass General was a long time in the making for Cristiane. “As soon as I realized I was fine and my son was fine, I wanted to do something,” she says.
She saw an email with an opportunity to run for Mass General and seized it. Mass General Marathon team members who run to support the emergency response department raise funds for the hospital’s emergency preparedness and disaster medicine efforts, work that helps victims worldwide. This is something that resonated deeply with Cristiane.
Last year, Cristiane felt the motivation that came with a cheering crowd and seeing her family at the finish line. She’s looking forward to running toward those same smiling faces in Boston’s Copley Square on April 18.
“It was so emotional last year when I ran. For Rafael, it’s part of his life story too,” she says. “Maybe someday he’ll run and do the same thing for Mass General. I teach my kids that if you’re grateful, you must do something — not just in words, but in action.”
If you would like to support Cristiane, please visit her fundraising page.
To learn more about Mass General’s marathon team, click here.
John Hancock-Mass General Boston Marathon® Partnership
Mass General is proud to be an official Partner of John Hancock in the Marathon Non-Profit Program. The Non-Profit Program provides more than 1,000 Boston Marathon® bibs to select non-profit organizations throughout the community, which provides organizations with a significant fundraising opportunity. As a Non-Profit Program partner for the past 25 years, Mass General has been able to host more than 2,360 runners who have collectively raised more than $21M for the hospital. Learn more about our John Hancock-Mass General Boston Marathon partnership that continues to provide significant support for our three signature causes: Pediatric Cancer, Emergency Medicine and Home Base.