Jason Pablo moved easily around a tennis court on a recent bright and sunny afternoon, alternately hitting the ball to his daughter, 10, and son, 7, standing ready with their racquets on the other side of the net.
Pablo, 38, loves spending time with his children—playing tennis and basketball and biking with them. But only three years ago, he could not have done these things. He suffered from a form of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart: The lower left chamber of the organ had become dilated, or enlarged, impairing its ability to pump blood.
Today, however, he is swinging a racket and chasing down tennis balls again, as well as doing all the activities he enjoyed before his diagnosis, thanks to a heart transplant at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. "Basically, the transplant has allowed me to think beyond the next day, the next week and even the next month about being an active participant in my children's future," he said. "That, for me, is the greatest thing."
A resident of Union City, Pablo was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2000. It was "idiopathic," meaning doctors were not sure what had caused it. At the time, his wife was six months pregnant with their daughter.
"It was an emotional blow, knowing that I had this condition with my parenting life just beginning," he said.
Still, it wasn't until 2003 that the symptoms began to take a significant toll, sapping his energy and leading to what he called "bad days" when he could barely get out of bed. About that time, his doctors diagnosed him with a heart arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rhythm. They initially treated it with drugs. Later, in 2005, he underwent a minimally invasive procedure, a catheter ablation, to destroy the problem-causing heart tissue. He also had a small defibrillator implanted in his chest after he experienced a more life-threatening form of arrhythmia, ventricular tachycardia.
Nevertheless, his condition worsened. In December of 2007, he underwent a second ablation procedure. This time, doctors accidentally perforated a major coronary vein, compelling him to undergo emergency open-heart surgery. "From that time on, the bad days started to outnumber the good days by far," Pablo said. "It was somewhat heart wrenching because my kids, who were really young at the time, wanted to go out and play, and I just didn't have the energy. My son was 4 at the time and would want to be carried, but I just didn't have the strength."
A few months later, his doctors began suggesting that he seriously consider a heart transplant. He chose to have the procedure at Stanford Hospital and began going there for pre-operative screenings and tests. "It was an amazing experience," he said. "Each and every person, every nurse and doctor, made it known to me that they were there for me, and they never fell short of that. I felt like I had a friend or close relative who was watching out for me."