How My Life Has Changed Since I Was Diagnosed With Heart Failure
By Jang Jaswal, told to Danny Bonvissuto
I grew up in India and emigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s.
It was stressful to settle into the American lifestyle as I couldn’t find a job in my field. Before moving to America, I was the head of the science department at Narayan Indian College in Fiji. Back then, we didn’t have the internet – you read the newspaper, apply for a job, and wait for someone to answer. So I drove a truck until I found a job in pharmaceutical quality control.
I smoked two packs a day, didn’t exercise, drank soda, and loved Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even though I have a genetic history of heart problems – my father died at 66 of a heart attack and my mother died at 72 of heart problems – I felt young and strong.
I had my first heart attack 3 years after moving to America. I was 32 years old.
History of heart attacks
Back then, medical technology was not as advanced as it is today. After my first heart attack, an angiogram revealed two blockages. They used the balloon method to increase blood flow to my heart, but the stents weren’t approved until a few years later.
I got out of the hospital and took care of myself for a few months, then went back to smoking, drinking soda, and eating fried foods.
I had blocked arteries every few years after that. Between my first and second heart attack, stents were approved. I had two implanted in 1992, then two more after another heart attack in 1997. After a serious heart attack in 2000, I had triple bypass surgery and quit smoking.
I had another heart attack in 2005 and had two more stents. I had a heart attack in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and received two or three stents each time.
Two shots in 3 months
In 2000, I had two strokes in 3 months. After that, I retired from my job. I have lost my peripheral vision on my left side: I can’t see anything coming from my left side until it’s right in front of me.
I also lost my sense of balance and spatial orientation. It’s a strange thing: part of our brain controls how you know where you are. From my house, I knew that this path was north, it was south, and so on. After the stroke, I didn’t know it anymore.
Every week I went to the same store with my family and knew where the cash registers were. After my stroke I thought the cash registers were on the other side. It stayed that way for a few years.
Renal failure and onset of end
In 2010, my kidneys gave up. I was on home dialysis for 2.5 years, then went to a center 4 days a week for 4 hours at a time.
In 2013, my heart started to give up. I became so weak that it was difficult for me to get up from a chair and take a few steps. I would have to think about which wall I was going to use to support myself. My mind also started to get foggy. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, even the television.
Then I lost my appetite. I asked my doctor about it and he said, “Jang, your body is preparing to die.” I asked him how long I still had to live, and he said, “Another 6 or 8 weeks if you’re lucky.”
The call that changed everything
All the well-known hospitals refused to consider me for a transplant. They said, “No, we’re not going to touch your case.”
Then the director of heart transplants at the University of California at San Francisco called me personally at home. I don’t know how he got my number.
He said, “Jang, I want to see you. I want to meet you. Bring your family. We will speak from your heart.
I took my wife, daughter and son to the meeting.
The doctor said, “You know your situation.”
I said, “Yeah, I’m up against the wall now, and I’m waiting for it to end.”
He said: “I can implant a machine called LVAD [left ventricular assist device] to pump blood that your heart can no longer pump. I’ve never implanted it in a patient on dialysis, but if you let me do that, there’s a good chance I can help you.
I believe in signs, so I said, “Let’s go. It doesn’t matter if I live or die. It will be a good experience anyway. “
After the 14 hour surgery, I was alive on two machines: the LVAD and my dialysis machine. But I started to feel better. I started to eat again. During my exam, the doctor said, “You’re ready to go under the knife again”, and he put me on the transplant list.
Seven weeks later, on November 22, 2013, I had a heart and kidney transplant. And I haven’t looked back since. When I tell people about my medical history now, they think I’m lying.
What i do now
My life has totally changed now and mostly revolves around taking care of myself.
Before COVID-19, I would wake up in the morning, walk 4 or 5 miles, come back, shower, relax, do chores, meditate and read.
I love having philosophical discussions with friends. I’m a science student at heart, and it makes me happy to think about it and talk about it.
I have always loved traveling. Growing up in India, I saw American travelers in their VW vans, and I wanted to see the world too. Before COVID-19, I spent 6 months of the year traveling to places like Fiji, Dubai, Canada, Moscow, and Shanghai.
I volunteer and give back as much as I can. I am part of Donor West, which promotes organ donation. I speak to hospitals, emergency nurses and schools. I give a talk here and there for the National Kidney Foundation and participate in their walks. I spend a lot of time with the American Heart Association (AHA) as the National Heart Failure Ambassador. I am also on a peer review committee for scholarships that the AHA gives to researchers. Sometimes a social worker calls me and asks me to speak to a patient or family who receives the LVAD implant.
What i eat now
Instead of breakfast, I usually have brunch around 10 a.m. I cook all my food. I try to avoid Indian curries, which I once loved, as they are high in fat and don’t taste good until you put a lot of salt in them.
I am diabetic and hypertensive so my diet is low in sodium and carbohydrates. I eat a lot of green vegetables. My dinners are even lighter than brunch: 3 ounces of meat, beans and greens.
How I manage my health
Another part of my life that has totally changed is staying on top of medications. I take about 32 pills a day. They must be taken at a certain time: I take pills once a month; others I take once a day at a specific time.
I don’t want to miss a single dose of my immunosuppressant because my own immune system will attack my transplanted organs, resulting in rejection.
I work in the lab once a month and of course I have to keep up with my medical appointments. Once a year, I have an angiogram, biopsy, and heart catheterization to check my heart.
I’ve been doing this for so long now that it doesn’t sound like an effort; it has become a reflex.
Heart failure and my family
My wife and I had a one year old daughter and she was pregnant with my son when I had my first heart attack. They grew up with it all. There’s something about me and Thanksgiving: I’d still be in the hospital. All the eating places were closed and they had to get something out of the vending machines. Sometimes I feel guilty about it.
My wife took care of the children from the start. There was a lot of burden on her because of my health. Before my transplant, I had not seen her smile for 30 good years. After my transplant, I opened my eyes and saw the biggest smile on her face. Now she is relaxing.
Even now, it seems surreal that I am truly alive. The upside is that I started to enjoy life a lot more.
Before my transplant, I lived like any other person. We don’t appreciate life at all. We are so engrossed in our daily life: making money, going here, going there. We never take a moment to appreciate what we have. Breathe. Take a step. Even now when I walk I enjoy so much that I can walk 4 miles. I can eat this. I can eat this. These simple things really give me a lot of joy. I feel very, very blessed.
Our sincere thanks to