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Overcoming a health scare, dreaming about baseball—and staying at UTEP

Diana Natalicio has recovered from a cardiac arrest suffered while walking on campus
University Business, October 2016
UTEP President Diana Natalicio throws out the first pitch at an El Paso Chihuahuas minor league baseball game.
UTEP President Diana Natalicio throws out the first pitch at an El Paso Chihuahuas minor league baseball game.

This spring, University of Texas at El Paso President Diana Natalicio was recuperating from a serious health scare: She had suffered a form of cardiac arrest and collapsed while leaving a building on campus in February.

Luckily, she had been walking with a UTEP police officer who knew CPR and called paramedics immediately. She believes her life was saved by the officer, whose daughter is a pre-med student at UTEP.

“I spend a great deal of time alone, traveling and in hotel rooms,” says Natalicio, who was diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia, which has been treated successfully. “I think about all the other places this was far more likely to happen than when I was standing next to a police officer.”

And she has no plans to retire. Back when she was completing her doctorate at UT Austin, she had imagined leading a typical higher ed career—moving from one academic position to another, each one a stepping stone to greater prestige, she says.

But the mission at UTEP—and the desert scenery through which she frequently hikes—makes leaving impossible. “I love the kind of understated community that El Paso is—I like humility and modesty,” she says. “And the students are so unentitled and just wonderful to work with.”

Plus, El Paso has a wildly popular minor league baseball team, the Chihuahuas, that satisfies the lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan’s passion for the game.

As a girl, Natalicio played baseball until the organizers of her neighborhood leagues stopped letting her on the field with the boys. And for much of her life, she still practiced pitching and playing catch. But now, when she throws at a first pitch at a game, she says, she’s content to the lob the ball in rather than trying a blazing fastball.

“People have asked me how long I’m going to be here and I’ve said the only other job I would ever take would be baseball commissioner.”

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