Abu Dhabi: Khaleel Al Herani may have been faced with an advanced heart ailment, yet it did not stop him from training.
The 35-year-old Jordanian has been hailed as a model patient by Abu Dhabi’s premiere multi-organ transplant facility, the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD). Supported by an artificial heart pump — a left ventricular assistance device — he continued weightlifting for nearly a year and a half before he received his heart transplant last month (October 2020). “I always thought I was invincible; I’m young and I’ve always kept in shape. So it was hard for me to accept my diagnosis,” Al Herani said.
It was in July that the Dubai-based property manager and avid weightlifter first began experiencing chest discomfort while in his office. office. Tests showed an enlargement of his heart, and Al Herani’s physician told him hat he should take a break from his training before coming back for further tests.
“I remember my doctor explained the issue to me in a very friendly way so that I wouldn’t get worried. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was in the early stages of heart failure. Four days after seeing the doctor, I felt I was going crazy without the gym, so I went back to lifting. I ignored the whole thing and honestly, I felt fine. And after a while, I forgot about the episode with my heart,” he said.
Al Herani didn’t experience any more symptoms until February 2019. As his heart function declined, fluid began to build up in his lungs, a condition called pulmonary oedema. The fluid made breathing more difficult, and it got to a point at which walking up a flight of stairs made Al Herani uncomfortable. “It slowed me down. Still, I avoided the doctor, until I couldn’t sleep one night because my breathing was so difficult. I hadn’t connected my breathing problems to my heart at all. But when the doctor referred me to a cardiologist, I remembered the episode the year before. That’s when I got really scared,” Al Herani said.
Ventricular assistance device
Recognising how advanced his heart failure had become, Al Herani was referred to CCAD. Upon arrival, doctors determined that, given the scarcity of donor hearts, installing a left ventricular assistance device would greatly improve Al Herani’s condition and enable him to live a normal life while he waited for a heart transplant.
“Al Herani came to us at a time when his condition was worsening significantly, and it was clear that he was in urgent need of a heart transplant. Thanks to advances in technology, an artificial heart pump gave him a fantastic quality of life, and more time, while we waited for a new heart to become available,” said Dr. Feras Bader, director of the heart failure and transplant program at the hospital.
Following the installation of the device, Al Herani’s condition improved greatly. He was able to return to work and regular exercise once again. He continued to visit CCAD regularly to manage his condition, and on visits that required him to stay overnight, he would bring equipment so that he could work out in his hospital room.
“Al Herani really shatters the traditional image of a heart disease patient. When you looked at him, you would never think he was a man with a heart problem. He is young, energetic, and looks like an athlete. We also saw a total transformation in him since installing his heart pump,” Dr Bader said.
It was during a routine stay at CCAD that Al Herani got news that would change his life again. A donor heart had become available that was a match for him. Since he was already at the hospital, his care team leapt into action, performing final checks and preparing him for surgery. “The stars really aligned for Al Herani. He was about to be discharged when we got word that there was a heart available for him. In these situations, time is of the essence, so having him close by was fantastic,” Dr Bader said.
The transplant was performed on October 10, 2020. “The surgery went very well, and I’m pleased to say he is making a fantastic recovery. Knowing Al Herani, I’m sure he will go from strength to strength,” said Dr. Gurjyot Bajwa, CCAD’s surgical director of mechanical circulatory support and heart transplantation.
Al Herani said he is committed to using his recent health challenges as fuel for the next chapter in his life. “I’ve really been through a lot these last couple of years. I really want to thank the team at CCAD, as meeting them really changed my mindset. When I think about life now, I’m just so grateful for everything that life has to offer. Sometimes challenges are put there for us to learn from and achieve something greater. That’s my plan now,” Al Herani said.
“Before my transplant, I would have dark days or panic attacks when I overthought things, but my wife was there to pick me up. And I’ve realised that opening up about health challenges is an important part of overcoming them. So I hope that my story can inspire people, especially men, to speak up around their health issues, and to really consider organ donation. I think that can only be a positive step for my generation,” he added.