Dubai weightlifter who had a heart transplant returns to the gym

Fitness enthusiast Khaleel Al Herani shares his story from bodybuilding to rebuilding his life

Surgeons perform a heart operation at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi
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A Dubai weightlifter is back in the gym after a serious health condition forced him to have a heart transplant.

Fitness enthusiast Khaleel Al Herani is not an ordinary patient. The Jordanian property manager wants to inspire others who are suffering from cardiac diseases.

At 35 and a regular gym-goer with a passion for lifting heavy weights, Mr Al Herani was shocked when doctors said he was in a desperate need of a new heart.

I hadn't connected my breathing problems to my heart at all - that's when I got really scared

A painstaking two years passed before a suitable donor was found.

Mr Al Herani got a second chance in life after he was operated on at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi (CCAD).

“I always thought I was invincible; I’m young and I’ve always kept in shape,” he said.

“It was very hard for me to accept the diagnosis.

“Before my transplant, I would have dark days or panic attacks when I overthought things, but my wife was there to pick me up.

"I’ve realised that opening up about health challenges is an important part of overcoming them.

“I hope that I can inspire people, especially men, to speak up around their health issues and to really consider organ donation.”

Mr Al Herani began experiencing chest discomfort while at work in his office job in July 2018.

Weightlifter Khaleel Al Herani, 35, is back in the gym after undergoing a heart transplant. Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

After a series of medical tests, doctors found he had an enlarged heart and advised him to give up his strict fitness regime.

“I remember my doctor explaining the issue to me in a very friendly way so that I wouldn’t get worried,” said Mr Al Herani.

“What I didn’t realise at the time was that he was telling me I was in the early stages of heart failure.

"Four days after seeing the doctor, I felt I was going crazy without the gym, so I went back to lifting.

“I ignored the whole thing and, honestly, I felt fine.

“After a while, I forgot about the episode with my heart.”

By February the following year, his heart function had decreased further and fluid began to build up in his lungs, making breathing increasingly difficult.

His health deteriorated so much that even climbing the stairs at home was a challenge.

“That’s when I got really scared,” said Mr Al Herani.

“I hadn’t connected my breathing problems to my heart at all.”

After a check up with doctors at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, it was clear that he was in urgent need of a heart transplant.

Thanks to technology, an artificial heart pump gave him a good quality of life to buy him more time while doctors waited for a heart to become available.

“Khaleel really shatters the traditional image of a heart disease patient,” said Dr Feras Bader, director of the heart failure and transplant program at CCAD.

“When you look at him, you would never think he was a man with a heart problem.

“He is young, energetic, and looks like an athlete.

“We saw a total transformation in him since installing his heart pump.”

Khaleel really shatters the traditional image of a heart disease patient

Following the operation, Mr Al Herani’s condition greatly improved and he was able to return to work and regularly exercise once again.

As he was about to be discharged from hospital after a routine appointment, doctors got word that there was a heart available for him.

“In these situations, time is of the essence so having him close by was fantastic,” said Dr Gurjyot Bajwa, who led the transplant surgery at CCAD.

“The surgery went very well, and I’m pleased to say he is making a fantastic recovery.

“Knowing Khaleel, I’m sure he will go from strength to strength.”