Suitulaga Hunkin found out he needed a new heart when he was just 26 years old.
Originally he thought it was heat stroke, but it turned out to be cardiomyopathy — and his heart was too weak to return to an un-stretched state.
Even though he was about 300 pounds, he thought he was healthy. He lifted weights regularly and everything, so he hadn't been worried about his health even though he knew he was technically overweight. He didn't understand just how serious the situation was, there weren't really any signs that were telling him to change.
He even had to quit his job and stop working out after his diagnosis, which led to more weight gain!
Here's how he described it:
"Being in heart failure, it sucks. You walk fifteen steps and feel like your heart was going to explode."
Then, he had a small stroke, and doctors found that Hunkin's heart was so damaged he needed a VAD (Ventricular Assist Device), a small mechanical pump to help his weakened heart. It wasn't enough, and even had to be replaced because of mechanical problems.
That's when his doctor told him he had to get into shape and have a heart transplant — or die at an early age:
"She said, 'You're killing yourself.' [She said,] 'Do it for your wife, do it for your kids, but do it for yourself.'"
Nobody would take him on for the transplant because of his weight! Apparently he needed to get his weight down to 250-270 lbs with a BMI of approximately 35. SO HE DID:
"It's like an addiction when you lose weight. The first ten pounds come off, before I knew it I'm down 30-40 lbs. We had a new heart surgeon at UCSF, [Georg Wieselthaler]. He said, 'You know, I'm really happy you're losing the weight. You lose 20 more pounds and I'll transplant you.'"
When he reached 250, they put him on the list — and he had a new heart by August of last year!!
Congrats, Suitulaga! We're glad you're on the path to recovery and a LONG and HEALTHY life!!
[Image via UCSF.]