“I’ve always been a fighter, all my life,” said former Western New Mexico University football player John Ofahengaue, who battles cardiomyopathy and is looking for a new heart, his heart no longer functioning at 8 to 10% of its usual function.
Almost a year ago on August 8, 2021, after intense football training, Ofahengaue collapsed face-first on the WNMU field. He stagnated for around six to eight minutes, until a nurse was able to resuscitate him with an AED (automated external defibrillator) – shocking him four times and ultimately bringing him back to life.
“During those six to eight minutes, I was able to see my uncle, who died of the same condition, and my grandfather, who died of the same condition,” Ofahengaue said, detailing everything he remembers from those short minutes. . . “I could see my spirit lifting my body and ascending to the clouds. I was in a third person view and could see my mind and body rising.
“As I’m lifted I come to this bright spot in the clouds – the sun is just shining – and I see my uncle and I see my grandfather waiting at a huge pearly doorway,” he said. for follow-up. “I could see them as I was going up, and the whole time I was going up they were saying, ‘You haven’t finished, you have to go back, you haven’t finished,’ just repeating those words.”
Hours before Ofahengaue went into cardiac arrest, his high school football coach and mentor, Lee Leslie, died of the exact same condition.
“I overtake my trainer on the way down,” Ofahengaue said. “We see each other, and he’s getting cut – he’s putting on his white suit by this big angel, and he’s about to go beyond the veil. I will be back [to life] and he leaves. All I see is that huge smirk he always gives me. As I pass him, he says: “You are not finished”, he repeats – at that moment, I came back into my body.
Once he was revived, coaches rushed Ofahengaue into an ambulance – and being the competitive guy he is, he told his coach: “No matter what happened, I wasn’t the last in the conditioning exercises – I was the first.”
Even after nearly dying, he had to let his coach know it wasn’t for nothing.
“He’s a very good young man, a very motivated young man,” said WNMU defensive coordinator Junior Tanuvasa. “His medical condition kind of prevents him from doing a lot of things he wants to do at the moment being a young man himself. But, he’s a great person – a very good boy. We still pray for him here and check on him periodically. I’m not able to check on him as much as I was when he was here – it’s hard for us, and we’re trying to make sure he’s okay.
“John broke his ass every practice, broke his tail every practice,” he continued. “He made the effort that is expected of a child. It was a difficult situation for everyone, but we managed to get the paramedics to come. »
Ofahengaue was born on May 18, 1998, in Laie, Hawaii, to a single mother, and said he had always enjoyed sports, soccer in particular. He went to Kahuku High School, which is known for football and has produced the most NFL players per capita in recent years. With the passion and love for football instilled in him at such a young age, the news of Ofahengaue’s cardiac arrest shattered his lifelong dream of playing professionally.
“I just asked [my cardiologist in Silver City] bluntly, ‘Am I allowed to play football anymore?’ he said, before being told he could never play again. “My emotions started to take over. I was silent for about five minutes, then I started crying. Then I started telling my cardiologist that I wouldn’t leave his office until he signed me on to play.
As difficult as it may have been to receive life-changing information, Ofahengaue knew he could no longer play football if he wanted to live. To make matters worse, the summer before his cardiac arrest, he was talking to scouts and agents about a possible invitation to an NFL combine.
“I couldn’t just let my dreams go,” he said. “It was just too hard for me, and I worked so hard to make my dreams come true. Over time I began to slowly let go and slowly see my purpose here on this earth.
After his first cardiac arrest, doctors surgically inserted a pacemaker and defibrillator that ended up saving his life almost a year later. Just recently, while sleeping at his home in Hawaii, his heart rate reached 260 beats per minute and he fell into his second cardiac arrest. The pacemaker was able to revive him, automatically bringing him back to life.
“I think the second one that happened to me was actually my other ticket out,” Ofahengaue said. “Doctors were saying a lot of people wouldn’t survive the whole next year.”
Although Ofahengaue had a history of coronary heart disease on the paternal side of the family, as well as a family history of sudden cardiac death, being so young and healthy, he never expected anything to happen to him. He said he remained strong and positive throughout, and continued to fight every day no matter what.
“My family and being home in Hawaii has helped keep me positive and motivated,” he said. “It’s very different [in Hawaii]. It is very different from the mainland. We’ve got the beach, we’ve got the food – there’s a whole lot of stuff that makes you realize how grateful you are to be here.
Ofahengaue is currently fundraising for her heart transplant goal of $100,000, which would pay for the 20% of the surgery cost that her insurance will not cover. To date, he’s raised around $16,000, which he says is a pretty good start.
“I had a lot of support from the whole community,” he says. “Some people were fundraising for me, selling t-shirts, some of them selling local food for me. I have a few fundraisers coming up. I’m trying to do a benefit concert with a heaps of reggae bands.I actually teamed up with Subway locally to give myself a full day’s worth of income.
In the near future, Ofahengaue hopes to become a coach. He said he saw himself as part of the football family, teaching and inspiring other kids like him. He said he has already received several coaching offers, including one at WNMU.
“I told him when he’s ready [to coach], I’ll take John in a heartbeat,” Tanuvasa said. “He’s very, very knowledgeable, he’s got great energy, he’s a very happy and infectious person. His personality is very infectious. He has a golden smile. I pray he’s able to do that and to coach – I think he’ll be really good when he’s ready.
To support Ofahengaue and her transplant journey, visit gofundme.com/f/johns-heart-transplant-goal.
Jordan Archunde can be reached at [email protected] press.com.