My team of doctors did an excellent job.
Nandan Savalia has always loved leading a healthy lifestyle. He has remained active, regularly attending fitness classes at his gym and watching his diet. He never had any heart health issues until one day in 2018 after a vigorous cardio boot camp class.
“I went to the gym and took cardio and yoga classes three or more times a week,” said the 50-year-old Manalapan resident. “I’ve never had any problems. But after a class (in June 2018), I felt a little shortness of breath that wouldn’t go away.
Nandan’s shortness of breath was a sign that he had suffered a heart attack during his class. The heart attack caused severe damage to Nandan’s heart, which led him on a three-year journey that ended successfully with a successful heart transplant at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) in New -Brunswick.
On the day of his heart attack, Nandan waited an hour after class thinking he just needed to calm down and relax after the vigorous workout. After returning home and waiting another 15 minutes, he still couldn’t catch his breath.
He then went to the emergency room of a local hospital where he underwent a series of tests and doctors determined he had suffered a heart attack. She was given anti-clot medication, but Nandan’s symptoms worsened. As the hospital did not have a cardiac catheterization lab, he was airlifted to RWJUH, a cardiovascular center of excellence.
Cardiac catheterization revealed blockage of one of the main arteries supplying the heart muscle. However, the muscle had already been damaged and his heart function was reduced.
“After about six to eight months, I started to get more and more tired,” Nandan recalls.
Activities that never gave him problems in the past were now physically challenging.
Nandan was then referred to RWJUH’s advanced heart failure, ventricular assist device and transplant program. The team initially managed his heart failure with medication.
After undergoing further tests, doctors determined that his heart function was below normal and he was placed on additional medication to support his heart and lung function.
He was then referred to the Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology Program for evaluation by a multidisciplinary team led by Medical Director Deepa Iyer, MD, and Hirohisa Ikegami, MD, Surgical Director of the Heart Transplant Program. After evaluation, Nandan was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant.
Nandan’s fatigue worsened and he underwent further tests. Given the persistent fatigue, Nandan underwent another right heart catheterization. Tests revealed that his heart function was weak and his lung pressure was too high. The team then implanted a temporary ventricular assist device (VAD) to support his failing heart and prevent damage to his other vital organs. He stayed in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at RWJUH for 51 days before receiving his life-saving transplant. The wait has been an emotional rollercoaster for several reasons.
“On July 21, 2021, my birthday, my team woke me up at 6:30 a.m. to tell me a heart might be available,” he said.
But after further testing, Nandan’s blood was determined to contain antibodies against the donor heart, indicating a prohibitive risk of rejection.
After receiving this disappointing news, Nandan continued to work remotely on her computer in her information technology job. He walked 15-20 laps around the CVICU each day to stay as healthy as possible while waiting for a proper heart.
Meanwhile, her father, who was undergoing cancer treatment, suffered a serious fall.
“My father was at RWJUH to undergo surgery for a brain hemorrhage after his fall,” Nandan explained.
Special arrangements were made by the care team and hospital administration for Nandan to safely visit his father who was critically ill in the neurocritical intensive care unit at RWJUH. “I was able to visit my father but I lost him on August 12.”
The grief was overwhelming, but Nandan was determined to survive and leave the hospital to be with his wife, Toral, and two children, Riya (16) and Rohan (14).
Finally, on August 18, he received the news he had been waiting for so long: a donor heart had been found and it was a perfect match. Dr. Hirohisa Ikegami successfully completed the transplant.
“My team of doctors did a great job,” Nandan said. “There’s a reason many in the hospital say Dr. Ikegami has the hand of God.”
“Losing my father was very difficult, but I feel like he went up there (into heaven) for me to make sure there was a heart for me,” he added.
“Mr. Savalia was an example of resilience, courage and perseverance. Our whole team celebrated when we were able to let him know that we had the perfect donor heart for him. He had an incredible recovery. was able to walk only three days after the transplant and was sent home on August 26, just eight days after his transplant.He is following up on his protocol for post-transplant testing and visits, is doing very well and continues to ‘inspire everyone with his dedication and discipline,’ Dr. Iyer said.
Nandan has yet to resume classes at the gym, but he is logging 10,000 steps a day. He is looking forward to traveling again with his wife and children – one of the things they did as a family that has been put on hold.
Looking back on all the emotional ups and downs of his heart transplant journey, there was one constant for Nandan: he never gave up.
“I lost three years of my life, so it’s good to have a normal life back,” he said. “My advice to other patients is to never give up. Always stay active to boost your body and be ready for when the time comes.