NILES, Ohio — Kathleen Black loves tattoos, her family and her heart surgeon, Dr. Cristian Baeza.

What You Need To Know

  • A Niles woman is thanking her heart surgeon in a permanent way

  • She credits her University Hospitals doctor with saving her life, and now she is showing her gratitude with a tattoo in his honor

  • Kathleen Black’s family has a history of heart disease; her grandfather died at age 46 from a massive heart attack, and three of her brothers also died from heart attacks in their 50s

A permanent mark on her arm is a way to combine them all.

“I constantly look at it cause that right there is a reminder of him saving my life," she said.

Their connection was instant.

“You tell those nurses this tattoo is for them, too," Black said to Baeza via Zoom.

"I know," he said. "I tell everybody that it's a team effort."

"Your whole team," Black said. "Absolutely doctor, but you most of all because you got my heart."

Black met Baeza in person for the first time right before her aortic valve replacement surgery in February 2021 at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

Courtesy of University Hospitals.

The 55-year-old said she had a minor heart attack in 2020 and discovered she had a bad aortic valve that wasn’t allowing blood to flow freely to her heart.

Black’s family has a history of heart disease. Her grandfather died at age 46 from a massive heart attack and three of her brothers also died from massive heart attacks in their 50s.

She wanted to take care of herself, but was terrified of heart surgery. That was until she met Baeza.

“I said to him, 'Doctor do you believe in true love?' And he says, 'Yes.' And I said, 'Well, you’re going to have my heart in your hands. Don’t break it. Don’t you break it, doctor.' And he pulled his mask down and he goes, 'You and I are going to get along wonderful.' And so I knew right there he was the one. He was my guardian angel," Black said.

Right after surgery, Black knew she wanted to honor Baeza with a tattoo. But the risk of infection made her son nervous. He’s a tattoo artist.

A little more than a year after the operation, he finally agreed to do it.

“So, he did my own heart beat, and he connected Dr. Baeza's name there," Black said while pointing to the tattoo.

“Something like this is so tangible," Baeza said. "It’s like real world and the fact that she did it, it just means a lot to somebody like me who, basically, I dedicated my life to this."

Today, Black feels much healthier and happier.

“I appreciate life so much more now," she said. "Much more than I did before, honey. I think of my boys and my granddaughters and if I would have died I wouldn’t be here right now, you know. I owe Dr. Baeza, like I said, more than this tattoo. He saved my life.”

Just like their bond, this thank you gesture is forever.