A heart condition does not get this young man down. City Harvest Church member Kevin Wong lives life to the fullest while waiting for a heart transplant.
Kevin Wong, a 26-year-old service engineer, appears healthy to people around him. Perennially dressed in a simple T-shirt and jeans, paired with sneakers and his black-framed glasses, he is the very picture of the boy-next-door. No one would suspect for one moment that he suffers from a medical condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy.
This disease often starts in the left ventricle of the heart that operates as the main pumping chamber. The heart muscle begins to dilate and causes the inside of the chamber to enlarge. Eventually, the heart muscle cannot contract normally to pump the blood well, resulting in a weakened heart or fatal heart failure.
Death came knocking on Wong’s door four years ago when he was a tertiary student. A series of unfortunate medical events happened after he experienced severe stomach pain following a steamboat dinner. He was rushed to the hospital, but by then, his heart was only functioning at 25 per cent. He was immediately sent for an operation to have a pacemaker installed to regulate his heartbeat.
But the surgery did not help Wong—his breathlessness worsened. His heart function decreased to 13 percent and he fell into a coma for a week. With his life hanging by a thread, the medical team suggested implanting a mechanical heart device, Heartmate II, to help his heart to pump more efficiently.
After regaining consciousness, Wong, who used to play basketball every week, had to adjust to a change in lifestyle. He now has to carry a two-kilogram, battery-operated controller connected by a wire that ran out from an open wound in his abdomen. This controller is what keeps the Heartmate II operating and Wong has to carry it everywhere he goes. It has an alarm that beeps loudly when the battery is left with only 15 minutes of power.
Wong always has to be meticulous when it comes to ensuring he doesn’t run out of battery life. “One battery takes two to three hours to recharge fully and it can last for around 12 hours,” Wong explains. “I also need to keep my controller and my open wound from getting wet when I shower.”
Beyond physical adjustments, Wong has had to deal with his emotions as well. The HeartMate II is a bridge to a potential heart transplant, but Wong has been waiting for about five years now for a new heart. The average waiting time for a new heart is usually one and a half years. He has learned not to be upset about it and continues to hope on for a new heart that will give him the opportunity to lead a normal life. There were a few heart donors in the past year but they were women—their heart sizes were too small for him.
What has also been tough for Wong, who graduated from polytechnic with a diploma in electrical and electronics engineering, has been losing connection with his basketball mates. “My friends asked me out for basketball when I was hospitalized. After I got better, I replied to all their messages but they could not be sent out. When I was discharged, I had to quit playing basketball weekly and that reduced my contact with them,” he said with some regret.
He initially face difficulty landing a job because of his medical condition. But serendipitously, in 2015, he attended a National Heart Centre fundraiser as a beneficiary and was seated beside a person who worked for the company that distributes the HeartMate II. This kind person connected Wong to the company, and he was hired a month later as a service engineer. “My duties are to do preventive maintenance every month and assist other engineers if they need help,” he describes.
Currently, Wong has to visit his cardiologist once every three months. The cause for his condition is still unknown and puzzling for him, especially when none of his family members has heart disease. But throughout this period, he has been blessed with his family’s love, he says. They are always there for him and during his hospitalization days, his dad would travel from Johor Bahru, where he is based for work, to visit him every day. His family takes good care of him and ensures that he does not over-exert himself.
Wong is truly grateful to each of his family members. “We have to cherish life every day, stay healthy and care for our loved ones,” he says. He has been attending City Harvest Church for about seven years now and serves as a backstage crew member in the church’s Drama ministry.
His cell group and ministry members often offer their assistance by carrying his spare controller bag, and praying for him when he faces troubles. Due to his heart condition, he is assigned lighter tasks in the ministry. He sees volunteering as a form of light exercise to help him recover some physical strength. Occasionally, Wong also helps out in the JAMs Church, a service for people with special needs. “We should help and sympathize with people in need,” he says.
Wong believes that God is his Healer and he trusts in the Lord. “Jesus died to save us and by His stripes, we are healed,” he firmly declares. Just last November, Wong had to undergo a third surgery during an emergency. The controller alarm failed and the HeartMate II pump stopped while he was at work. Because of his engineering background, he discovered it when he did a random check on the signal of the controller, and quickly went to hospital. Thankfully, Wong recovered swiftly after the surgery and was up and about after a few days; he even served backstage for the church’s Christmas drama production. Wong counts it as a miracle.
Two months ago, Wong suddenly collapsed at home and was rushed to hospital. He had suffered an unexplained burst vessel in his brain, but thankfully, was treated in time and is now recovering.
God has preserved his life again and again, a fact Wong is grateful for. Since this story was first published, Wong has been receiving support from his cell group and ministry members, who have visited and prayed with him. Wong’s desire is simply that readers will pray for him to be in good health, and to receive a new heart soon.
This article was updated on July 2, 2016. It was brought to our attention that the earlier version of this article had been misconstrued as a public fundraising effort by CHC, which it was not. We regret any misunderstanding caused. We are also happy to update readers that Kevin Wong’s medical fees as of June 2016 have been resolved with the help of the medical social worker aiding him and his family.