As he approaches the one-year anniversary of his heart transplant at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Sultan Al Muhairi has his sights firmly set on the future.
The 38-year-old Emirati was the beneficiary of the UAE’s second full heart transplant operation in October 2018. For this year’s World Heart Day on September 29, he has shared his thoughts on the experience and his road to recovery.
Forced to opt for medical retirement from his career as an instrument technician following his heart failure diagnosis ten years ago, Sultan felt his life had been put on hold. His deteriorating health meant that his world had become smaller and smaller, he said, rarely leaving the house for anything other than appointments with his doctors.
“For many years, life was very hard for me. It felt like every day I could do less and less. Since my transplant, my health has been getting better and better. My new heart gave me a second chance at life. I’m able to go out, exercise and I’m even preparing to go back to work next month. After that, I hope to get married and start a family,” says Sultan.
For years, Sultan’s heart failure was managed with medication by care teams at Cleveland Clinic in the United States, as well as in Abu Dhabi. By early 2018, his condition worsened to the point he required a left ventricular assistance device (LVAD). While the device restored some degree of autonomy to Sultan, it imposed its own set of restrictions on him.
“The LVAD is like a bridge to a new heart. While it supports the heart’s function, reducing the weakness and fatigue associated with advanced heart failure, it imposes its own set of limitations. It is powered by an external battery pack that needs to be changed every few hours. It also means patients can’t stray too far from emergency medical support. A transplant removes all of those limitations and allows patients to get on with their lives,” explains Dr Gurjyot Bajwa, a heart transplant surgeon at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
Since receiving his heart transplant, Sultan has made great strides in his recovery. He has been able to get back behind the wheel of a car and makes sure he gets regular exercise.
Exercise is the key
“I make sure I exercise as often as possible. These days, I prefer to do laps of the mall where it’s air conditioned,” says Sultan.
For his part, Sultan is keenly aware of the time and experiences he has missed out on over the last ten years.
“I need to return to life. When I was sick, I was ashamed that I couldn’t work. I look around and see that my friends have all progressed in their careers, becoming managers. I joke with them, telling them I should have their jobs. Everyone needs to do something with their life and now, finally, I have the chance to do something with mine,” he says.
Sultan continues to receive regular follow up care at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
“Sultan is a great example of the full spectrum of care available to heart failure patients. We have cared for him for a number of years, supporting him through every stage. To see him now is like seeing a different person. Our whole team is tremendously proud of the recovery he has made,” says Dr Feras Bader, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
Reflecting on the new lease of life he has been given, Sultan is mindful of the sacrifice that enabled it.
“I want to thank the donor and their family for this precious gift and the staff at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi that made the surgery possible. I’m proud to be Emirati and I really want to give back, to live a life to that lives up to everything I have been so lucky to receive,” he concludes.