56-Year-Old Conquers Heart Transplant and COVID Thanks to Cardiac Rehab

Sam Persad

January 21, 2022

Sam Persad was 56 years old when a heart attack changed his life. One day while he was working with his company’s owner tidying up the shop, he felt sudden pain in his chest. He ignored it—until the tightness persisted and he called his wife. Then, he called 911.

Surgeons placed stents in three severely blocked arteries. But his heart was too damaged for repair. A few days later, he was placed on a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and began cardiac rehabilitation at the JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s Center for Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

“The first thing they asked me was, ‘What is your goal?’” Sam says. “I said, ‘I want to be able to walk up and down the stairs and get to the bathroom.’ By the end of two weeks, I was walking with a cane and getting around, even up the stairs.”

Yet his heart was still failing, and it was determined that he needed a heart transplant. Sam was hospitalized during the six weeks it took for him to receive a donor’s heart, which took place October 3, 2020.

Not Wasting This Gift

Sam returned to the Center for Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation for in-patient rehab. He knew he could not survive at home and needed continued care as he moved forward with rehabilitation. 

“I told the physical therapists and nurses to kick my butt. I want to walk again. I want to be where I was before my heart attack,” he recalls. “They worked with me. They pushed me. You don’t realize how much of your strength you lose when you are waiting for a heart transplant.”

As the COVID pandemic continued, Sam completed his rehabilitation exercises in his room. He was fearful of harming his new heart, but he trusted the nurses and therapists to monitor him. Once, they intervened when his blood pressure was off, for instance. They helped him with his fear that he would push himself too hard and damage his new heart.

“It is amazing to me how strong I have gotten,” he says. “You need rehabilitation to connect your new heart with your body. You must get in shape. You can’t waste this gift you have been given.”

Eventually, Sam went home with the plan to continue outpatient rehabilitation at the Center for Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Several months after his transplant, he contracted COVID-19, which lingered for several weeks. He credits the strength he gained through the rehabilitation process for helping him get through COVID.

Recently he returned from a trip to Missouri to see his first grandson, and he and his son went out for target practice.

Sam considers rehabilitation an essential part of his journey toward recovery. “The rehabilitation process totally changes your mind and heart,” he says. “You learn you can push through this, you can get moving and you can get through this challenge.”

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