Heart transplant

Special bond between two heart transplant survivors

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A man from San Diego is counting his blessings this holiday season. He is grateful for his heart donor and his unlikely new friend, facing a recovery together after a heart transplant.

In 2010, George Jimenez, 56, discovered he was suffering from congenital heart failure. Nine years later, his condition was almost fatal.

“My heart was only beating 13%,” recalls Jimenez.

The old gym rat was still fainting. He had to quit his job. But he was determined not to give up on life.

“Thinking of my daughter, she is six, I can’t leave,” Jimenez cried.

So he got on the list of heart transplants.

And last February, Jimenez got a new heart through a revolutionary procedure known as “donation after cardiac death” or DCD transplant. This is where a surgeon resuscitates a heart that is not pumping with a machine, and then transplants it into a patient. UCSD Health is the only facility on the west coast to perform this type of surgery.

But the recovery was excruciating. Jimenez was so close to giving up.

“I was just upset,” Jimenez said.

A few weeks later, in the hospital waiting room, Jimenez met a young man who would change his life.

“I came out of the blue womb and didn’t look too good,” said Isaac Gonzalez, 19.

Gonzalez was born without a right ventricle. Before his third birthday, he had 27 surgeries. And in December 2019, he needed a new heart.

“It came to the end of the line with the heart he had, and he needed a transplant to survive longer,” said Dr Victor Pretorius, director of the heart transplant program at UCSD Health.

After seven months on the transplant list, Gonzalez got a new heart.

“The moment I woke up from my operation, it was instantaneous,” Gonzalez said. “I knew right away, okay, I feel a lot better.”

It was then that he and his father met George Jimenez. After just a few minutes of chatting, the two discovered they had so much in common. They both loved bikes, especially supercross.

“How can a 56 year old man and an 18 year old man be such good friends?” Jimenez laughed. “But with something like that, age doesn’t matter.”

They started talking every day, posting updates, and sending notes of encouragement. They are now called “brothers of the heart”.

“I’ve always wanted a brother, and this is George,” Gonzalez said.

“I feel like God put you [Gonzalez] in my life today because I didn’t want to continue. It’s too much for me. But watching you go through what you’ve been through, if you can go through it, I can go through it, ”Jimenez said.

It was just the start of a heart-to-heart connection, inspiring not only themselves but everyone around them. On the first anniversary of their transplant, Jimenez and Gonzalez hope to meet the families of their donors to thank them for their new chance at life.