Heart transplant

NY Snapshot: Heart transplant recipient John Damato takes advantage of a new chance in life to pursue his MMA dreams

FORT LEE, NJ — February is Heart Health Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, but those affected have a lifeline: a transplant.

One recipient is the focus of this week’s New York Snapshot with Steve Overmyer.

“I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been more confident. It taught me to really love myself,” John Damato said. “I needed this.”

Damato discovered MMA fighting, and for the past year has spent six to eight hours a day at Fort Lee Fight Lab, the location of his rebirth.

“I was born with a really, really rare heart defect called corrected great vessel transposition. The ventricles are switched,” he said.

For most of his life, it wasn’t a concern, until a test at age 14.

“They said I was 90% heart failure,” Damato said.

For two years he waited for a new heart. His life purpose at the time was simple.

“I just want to be a kid again. I just wanted to live a normal life. That’s all I wanted to do,” he said.

A heart became available just when hers ran out of heartbeats.

“Twenty-one children die a day while waiting. Double the number of adults,” Damato said. “It’s sad how many people die while waiting. I was going to be part of those statistics. I had a week left, they said.”

Dr. Sumeet Mitter is Damato’s cardiologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

“Besides becoming more physically active and healthy, it has helped his self-esteem, his confidence. He can now hopefully inspire others,” Mitter said.

Damato recently passed its 10-year balance sheet. All is well for a man who ten years ago opened his eyes to a new life.

“I was able to breathe deeply for the first time, you know? Damato said. “I started crying, you know? I was like, ‘Is this what it’s supposed to feel like? “”

For every life saved, there is an organ donor who lost theirs. His name was Jonah King, from North Carolina.

When Damato reached out, the Kings welcomed him with open arms.

“The stories I heard about him, what an amazing human being he was, it would be disrespectful of me not to try to save and help as many lives as possible with what I’m going to do” , did he declare. .

He currently teaches children the art of jujutsu.

“I can’t help but smile right now. Watching them become the people they become is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Damato said.

That says a lot about the journey he made.

As a heart transplant recipient, he felt unimaginable pain. Now he distributes it.

“I had a heart transplant, yeah, but what does that mean, you know?” Why can’t I live my life? Why can’t I pursue my dream? Damato said.

His dream is to become a professional fighter. A year ago, he began a vigorous training regimen, up to eight hours a day.

After his heart transplant, he gained 100 pounds. He lost almost everything.

Damato has won 10 of his 12 fights, most recently winning gold in his class at a national event in Pennsylvania.

“I ran off the mat and hugged my team. I mean, it was, it’s like I said, it’s like, you fight alone but everyone helps you come to this. I cried a little, you know, because of all the hard work,” he said.

A man who has ever defied the odds knows better than anyone that nothing worth winning comes easy.

“I’m going to leave everything there because you only go around once,” Damato said. “I don’t want to have storylines and be like, I did all of this.”

Live a life worthy of the gift he has received.

If you want information on how to become an organ donor, visit donatelife.ny.gov/register.