SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A San Diego man is counting his blessings this holiday season. He is thankful for his heart donor and his new unlikely friend, facing recovery together after heart transplant surgeries.
In 2010, 56-year-old George Jimenez found out he had congenital heart failure. Nine years later, his condition was near-fatal.
"My heart was only pumping at only 13%," Jimenez remembered.
The former gym rat was always fainting. He had to quit his job. But he was determined not to quit on life.
"Thinking about my daughter, she's six years old, I can't leave," Jimenez teared up.
So he registered to be on the heart transplant list.
And this February, Jimenez got a new heart through a revolutionary procedure known as a"donation after cardiac death" or DCD transplant. This is where a surgeon revives a non-pumping heart using a machine, then transplants it into a patient. UCSD Health is the only facility on the West Coast to perform this type of surgery.
But recovery was excruciating. Jimenez was so close to giving up.
"I was just distraught," Jimenez said.
A few weeks later, in the hospital waiting room, Jimenez met a young man that would change his life.
"I came out of the womb blue and not looking too good," 19-year-old Isaac Gonzalez said.
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 that he had, and he needed a transplant to survive for longer," Dr. Victor Pretorius, Director of the Heart Transplant program at UCSD Health, said.
After seven months on the transplant list, Gonzalez got a new heart.
"The moment I woke up from my surgery, it was instantaneous," Gonzalez said. "I knew right away, okay, I feel much better."
That is when he and his father met George Jimenez. After just a few minutes of talking, the two found that they had so much in common. They both loved bikes, especially supercross.
"How can a 56-year-old and an 18-year-old be such good buddies?" Jimenez laughed. "But with something like this, age doesn't matter."
They began talking every day, posting updates, and sending notes of encouragement. They now call each other the "Heart Brothers."
"I always wanted a brother, and here comes George," Gonzalez said.
"I feel like God put you [Gonzalez] in my life today because I didn't want to continue. This is too much for me. But from watching you going through what you went through, if you can go through it, I can go through it," Jimenez said.
That was just the beginning of a heart-to-heart connection, inspiring not only themselves but everyone around them. On the one-year anniversary of their transplant surgeries, both Jimenez and Gonzalez hope to meet the families of their donors to thank them for a new chance at life.