​A young weightlifter aims to show others that despite being diagnosed with heart disease, life can go on.

Khaleel Al Herani, a 35-year-old Jordanian, was first diagnosed with advanced heart failure in 2018, and due to the seriousness of his condition, needed to receive a heart transplant. Whilst waiting for a transplant, Khaleel was fitted with an artificial heart pump that allowed him to continue to train as normal. Now, following a successful transplant at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, he wants to not only demonstrate to others that life can go on, but aims to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation and encourage young men to take better care of their health.

It was in July 2018 that Khaleel first experienced pain in his chest. Tests revealed his heart was enlarged and he was advised to take a break from his training regime until further tests could be carried out. 

Khaleel says, “My doctor explained the issue and told me not to worry. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was telling me I was in the early stages of heart failure. Four days after seeing the doctor, I felt like I was going crazy without the gym, so I went back to lifting. I ignored the whole thing and honestly, at that time, I felt fine.”

Khaleel didn’t experience any further symptoms until the following year. His heart function suddenly began to decrease, and fluid built up on his lungs causing a pulmonary edema. Breathing became difficult and even walking up stairs made him uncomfortable. 

Khaleel says, “I avoided going to the doctor and didn’t connect my breathing issues with my heart condition. Then, one night I really struggled to breathe. My doctor referred me to a specialist, and it was only then that I remembered my previous heart episode and I became very scared.”

Due to the seriousness of Khaleel’s condition, and his rapid deterioration, it soon became apparent that he was in urgent need of a heart transplant. He was referred to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s first and only multi-organ transplant center. Upon arrival, doctors determined that, due to the lack of donor hearts available, installing a left ventricular assistance devise (a pump), would greatly improve Khaleel’s condition while he waited for a transplant. 

Dr. Feras Bader, Director of the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi explains, “Khaleel came to us in desperate need of a transplant. Thanks to advances in technology, an artificial heart pump was able to give him a fantastic quality of life while we waited for a donor heart to become available.” 

Following the operation to fit the pump, Khaleel’s condition greatly improved. He was able to return to work and regular exercise once again. He continued to visit Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi regularly to manage his condition, and on visits that required him to stay overnight, he would even bring equipment so that he could work-out in his hospital room.  

“Khaleel really shatters the traditional image of a heart disease patient. When you look at him, you would never think he was a man with a heart problem. He is young, energetic, and looks like an athlete. Once the pump was fitted, we saw a total transformation in him” continues Dr. Bader.

Then, during a routine hospital stay, Khaleel got news that would change his life again. A donor heart had become available that was a match for him. His care team leapt into action and immediately prepared him for surgery.

Dr. Gurjyot Bajwa, Surgical Director of Mechanical Circulatory Support and Heart Transplantation at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, who led the surgery says, “The stars really aligned for Khaleel. 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 already in the hospital was fantastic. The surgery went very well, and I’m pleased to say he is making a fantastic recovery. Knowing Khaleel, I’m sure he will continue to go from strength to strength.”

Reflecting on his recent health challenges, Khaleel is committed to starting a new chapter in his life and to set an example to other young men experiencing heart disease. 

Khaleel says, “I always thought I was invincible; I’m young and I’ve always kept in shape. It was very hard for me to accept my heart diagnosis. I’ve realized that opening up about health challenges is an important part of overcoming them. I hope that I 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.”

“I really want to thank the team at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, as meeting them really changed my mindset. When I think about life now, I’m just so grateful for everything that it has to offer. Sometimes challenges are put there for us to learn from and achieve something greater. That’s my plan now,” concludes Khaleel. 

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