After heart transplant, 24-year-old making every beat count

Heart Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Feb 21, 2020

When then 22-year-old Kennedy Ngungutau began experiencing symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath and intense coughing, he realized he was very sick. He soon learned that his heart had been attacked by a virus a year earlier, causing it to grow weak.

To his surprise, Kennedy was diagnosed with heart failure.

Two months later, he fell ill once again and eventually ended up at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health. After exhausting all other treatment options, Kennedy had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted in March 2018 to help strengthen his heart.

An LVAD is a battery-operated pump typically used for people with weakened hearts facing end-stage heart failure. The mechanical pump helps the left ventricle pump blood to the rest of the body.

LVAD implantation can be lifesaving for people like Kennedy but adjusting to life with an LVAD is a challenge. Because the device is connected to your body at all times, living with an LVAD requires finding a new “normal.”

Adjusting to life with an LVAD

With his new LVAD, Kennedy had a decision to make—how does a 22-year-old live life with this device? Kennedy decided being positive every day was the key to his recovery.

“You can still enjoy life and live your life the best way you can,” he said.

So, he continued his daily routines but modified them in order to take it one day at a time. But Kennedy’s challenges were not over. After developing a serious blood clot in his heart, Kennedy was added to the heart transplant list. Only four days later, Kennedy and his family received the news they had been waiting for—he was getting a new heart.

After the successful transplant, Kennedy was determined yet again to regain his strength as quickly as he could. With the help of his intensive care unit (ICU) nurses, he focused on walking and completing the recommended exercises, and what a difference that made! Kennedy returned home less than two weeks after gaining a second chance at life.

“Baylor University Medical Center is the top heart transplant program in the state of Texas and one of the top ten in the country,” said Dan Meyer, MD, chief of heart transplantation and advanced circulatory support at Baylor University Medical Center. “This is only possible by our incredibly dedicated team of transplant professionals who put patients like Kennedy and their families at the center of our focus.”

So much more than a new heart

Kennedy participated in the cardiac rehab program at the Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Dallas, and to this day continues to be active. But he wasn’t stopping there.

For Kennedy, his second chance at life also meant a change in his outlook.

“I wake up every day with the goal of making every beat count,” he said.

His determination to stay active and positive is something he hopes to continue sharing with other people going through a tough time.

“It’s all dependent on your mindset and the way you look at life. All the things I’ve been through—they motivate me to keep getting stronger and help others so they can also stay positive.”

Inspired by his experience, Kennedy has also decided to return to school to pursue a career as a heart transplantation nurse. In all he does, he hopes to share a message of hope.

“I love helping other heart failure patients stay positive and not give up because there’s always hope.”

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