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Stories of hope

Change of heart – Giving back to mankind

Mohan Mahal

My transplant journey literally and figuratively led to a change of heart. I’ve been inspired to give back to the world and to the communities around me.

I was born in Amritsar, India, and I lived most of my life in New Delhi. I moved to the United States in 1972, to study mechanical and nuclear engineering at UC Berkeley. After graduating, I worked in Silicon Valley at a very stressful, high-pressure job managing 40 people. During this time, I told myself — this must be what life is all about. I have made it.

In 1985, at only 35-years-old, I suffered my first massive heart attack just as my career was in its prime. My two daughters, Subina and Simran, were only five and three at the time. My doctors performed a quadruple bypass and I was told my arteries were severely clogged. Returning to work and being placed on light duty with considerably less responsibility I felt worthless and unfulfilled. This eventually led me to fall into a severe depression.

In 1991, the pain in my heart returned and doctors determined my arteries were once again severely clogged. My physician in the Bay Area recommended a doctor in San Diego that was using stent technology, which helped to open clogged arteries. Although I was nervous, this seemed to be my only option. I knew the procedure wouldn’t be without risks.

Over a year later, the stent started failing and the pain returned. My doctors performed a second stent procedure, and three days later I felt another sharp pain in my chest. The stent had collapsed. My daughters, then 10 and eight, called for help. As paramedics arrived and loaded me into the ambulance, I looked at my girls and said, I’m not ready to leave this earth, yet.

While lying in the hospital bed on life support, my doctors determined the only line of treatment for me would be a heart transplant. My medical team in San Jose transferred me to Stanford to begin the agonizing wait. As my doctors described the transplantation process, I thought to myself: someone has to die for me to live and I don’t want that. I cried as I anguished over the thought of another human being sacrificing their life for mine. At that time, I felt like — if that has to happen, then I don’t want to live.

During this time, a pastor came to visit me and told me — it wasn’t worth the tears — if it was indeed meant to be, I should feel lucky if I ended up being chosen as the heart recipient. Three days later, a donor in Colorado was identified.

The transplant was a success.

I decided to leave the corporate world behind and chose instead to become a stay-at-home dad. My time away from work gave me a new perspective on life; I finally had the time to do something I’d dreamed about for decades — make an overdue visit back home to India with my family.

When we returned, something was still missing. I realized, God has given me such a wonderful life, and I really needed to be doing something for the good of humanity. I reached out to Donor Network West, an organization in the Bay Area that advocates for tissue and organ donation, and I became an ambassador for them. I felt like this might just be the answer to filling the void since my return from India.

I reflected on my time in India and remembered how the prevalent pollution was in my native country. I could see that pollution was widespread in the US as well. I knew that I could make a difference. I started to understand that I wasn’t given a second chance just so I could live, but so I could help others. I decided to use my engineering background to start building energy-efficient smart homes.

I participated in promoting the Climate change and here I am sharing a banner stating that Climate change is not a Hoax. I learnt that Passive homes that started in Germany by Dr. Wolfgang Feist are the most energy efficient homes. I took on the challenge to build one in California using a steel frame structure, this is work in progress.

There is life after the transplant now I have a company called SIDCO Homes Inc. Sustainable Innovative Design & Construction. SIDCO Shelters Foundation for promoting and building homes for the Homeless in California.

California experienced a devastating fire in Paradise near Chico, large portions of the city experienced fire damage in four hours. I started thinking about why are we still building with lumber the way we did hundreds of years ago. What happens next I give credit to my heart donor for the gift of life. I wanted to find solutions to build homes that will withstand fire, rain, termites, mold, save energy and be sustainable. After months of research and innovation with a patented design, I am building a house that I hope will change the way we will build in the future.

Trying to accomplish these tasks has not been easy during the COVID-19. That’s where the hope and the faith comes in, and you overcome hurdles and keep moving along the path of commitment and persistence. As a heart transplant patient, this is truly a story of hope. God has been very kind to me and my family. I encourage anyone reading this to support organ donation, it saves lives. This is greatest gift one can give, I would like to meet my donor’s family and personally thank them for the wonderful life, I have lived with my wife Arvinder for 40 years and two lovely daughters who now live in San Francisco and Oakland. I still can visit my mother who is going to be ninety soon.

I dedicate time to mentoring other transplant recipients and their families as part of the Patient and Family Partners Program (PFPP) at Stanford Health Care. Programs like PFPP can help patients and their families heal together. I would’ve never been able to help others the way I can now if I hadn’t received that transplant 27 years ago. I owe it all to that young heart from Colorado and will remain forever indebted to their generosity.

I served as President of TRIO – Transplant Recipient International Organization in San Francisco. I am starting a Non-Profit Organization TRDNR – Transplant Recipient Donor Network Registry where all the transplant recipients, donor families, care givers and family members will be able stay connected and become a source of community for each other to share their stories and get answers for the transplants.

I received countless blood and plasma donations throughout the years. I am so thankful to my donors for their gift of life. It is very important that everyone understand the need to become blood and organ donors is bigger than just themselves. You could potentially be inspired not just to give the gift of life, but to possibly help someone like me make a global impact, too.

This year, I will celebrate the 27th anniversary of my heart transplant. While the road hasn’t been easy, I am grateful for the opportunity. I have to take 10-12 medications every day for the rest of my life, but the feeling of giving back to the world by making the earth a better place makes this ever changing journey invaluable.

Thanks to my donor for the gift of life.

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