Maple Heights, Ohio (WJW) – Eating heart-healthy meals filled with fruits and veggies is a daily routine for 63-year-old Donald Stewart, of Maple Heights.
It was 29 years ago when the former football player and John F. Kennedy football coach received a heart transplant after falling ill.
“At the time, I was living a healthy life. I was playing semi-pro football,” Stewart said. “I caught a cold, a virus that spread to my left ventricle side of my heart and the cold virus, fighting off the cold, the white blood cells ate up half of my heart.”
Stewart underwent a heart transplant in 1992 and was among the first patients to receive an anti-rejection medicine called cyclosporine, which changed the average transplant survival rate from five to 10 years.
Stewart’s transplanted heart is now nearly 30 years old, and his doctors call him a walking miracle.
“He got the drug that actually helped him live longer, so when we’re all afraid of actually trying something new, believe me, there’s a reason we do this,” said Dr. Eileen Hsich, medical director for heart transplant at the Cleveland Clinic.
“I try to tell my kids, now they’re talking about the virus, the vaccine right now. I said, ‘if daddy wasn’t experimenting, trying new medicine, I wouldn’t be here now,”‘ said Stewart.
World Heart Day serves as a grim reminder that cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, are the leading cause of death globally, with nearly 18 million lives lost every year.
After his transplant, Donald blew up to 400 lbs., his hips deteriorating from all his daily heart medicines. He underwent bariatric surgery, which also cured his diabetes.
Stewart attributes his positive health journey to his wife and family and even sells fruit in his community, teaching others about the importance of living a healthy life.
“People need to know how to take care of their body, eat healthy and try to look out for one another,” he said.