In the entire journey of seeing his teenaged son through a heart transplant, Jamal Ahmed, 50, says the waiting period of 45 days was the most agonising. The five hours that Umar, his 14-year-old son, spent inside the operation theatre—his weak heart taken out, the heart from a donor prepared and transplanted in his chest—seemed less traumatising. “It was the wait that worried us so much,” recalls Ahmed, who works as an inspector in a leather factory in Chennai. “In those 45 days, we could see Umar's condition worsening by the day. His heart rate had dropped to 14 [normal heart rate is 60-100]. He could barely eat.... He would vomit every time he ate something. The doctors had told us that our son had only a week's time left.”
In 2014, Umar had been diagnosed with left ventricular dysfunction—his left ventricle was dilated and unable to pump blood to the rest of the body. This came as a surprise to his family, for Umar had been an active boy who enjoyed playing cricket. “In 2012, he had a fever that wouldn't go. He also had some breathing trouble. But we lived in a small town [Ambur in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu]. So it could not be diagnosed,” says Ahmed. “He also had trouble breathing, and his digestion had not been good in those days.”
Life kept going on until one day Umar fell unconscious. A private hospital in Chennai recommended a transplant. At Fortis Malar, Chennai, doctors told Ahmed that his son had been registered for a transplant, and an operation would be done as soon as a heart matching his blood group was available.
The wait proved to be an arduous one. Once during those 45 days, a heart was available, but it had to be rejected because it belonged to a 50-year-old and could not be used for a teenager. “One late afternoon in February 2014, I got a call that a heart was available, and that I should rush to the hospital. The heart was that of a 21-year-old engineer, who had died in an accident,” says Ahmed. The nervous father recalls sending WhatsApp messages to relatives to pray for his son. “The surgery started at about 9pm, and by 2am we knew that Umar would now be fine,” says Ahmed.
The procedure cost them Rs 15 lakh; Ahmed paid Rs 10 lakh, and the rest was sponsored by Aishwarya Trust. “I was ready to sell my house. But my relatives pitched in with some money, and Dr K.R. Balakrishnan [director, cardiac sciences] arranged Rs 5 lakh from the trust,” he says. Now, Ahmed says Umar has to be on immunosuppressants for life. The medicines cost Rs 18,000 a month, which are a substantial strain on his resources. For now though, the proud father is happy his son is back on the cricket pitch.