From the flu to full-blown heart collapse

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Jayden Cummins
Jayden Cummins
Jayden Cummins, amateur but knowledgeable heart expert, would probably rather not know why having a flu shot is a good idea for heart health or even what a transformative exercise walking can be.

But the 48-year old’s life now is all about his heart and he is an expert whether he wants to be or not. 

Diagnosed with an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation in 2016, Jayden’s mild symptoms were being well managed with medication, and a follow up heart-health check in mid-2017 showed his heart was in excellent condition. And then the flu hit.

“The symptoms weren’t severe but it attacked my heart and put it into a permanent state of atrial fibrillation.” Six attempts to shock Jayden’s heart back to a normal rhythm failed, and soon he was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties.

“My heart was shutting down, along with my kidneys and liver.”

Jayden’s health quickly and dramatically worsened, with a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy and talk of a potential heart transplant. Before anything could be done, his health deteriorated further and he was put on life support.    

“At this point, I was at end-stage heart failure.” His only hope was a Left Ventricular Assistance Device (LVAD), a battery-operated mechanical pump, which helps the heart’s main pumping chamber pump blood to the rest of the body. 

His heart crashed during the surgery but eventually, the LVAD was successfully inserted. He was then in a coma for two weeks, after which he had to re-learn how to swallow and how to walk.

During all of this, Jayden’s 13-year-old son has been beside him. “He has shown incredible strength throughout this whole ordeal. He sat in ICU when I was on life-support, holding my hand and telling me every day that I would get better."

"Everyone around him said that I would most likely die.”

As Jayden slowly strengthened, he began the long series of tests that are the precursor to joining the heart transplant waiting list. These include psychiatric evaluation and cognition tests, as well as tests for lung function, bone density and skin cancer. “I even had to have a couple of teeth pulled, just in case they picked up an infection down the track.”

Since then, Jayden’s life has become his heart health: he has sold his car and walks everywhere – even making it up Mount Kosciuszko with his mechanical heart in May 2018 and competing in Sydney’s City to Surf in August.  

He’s also taking part in many studies and tests, including genetic testing for him and his son. 

“My mother died in 1991 at the age of 44 from cardiomyopathy brought on by a virus. She was being considered for a transplant at one stage but was too ill to make the list. She had a stroke and ultimately died.”

Although his exercise and health regime has helped Jayden’s heart recover significantly – improving its function from 5% to 50% - there have been complications, including “a couple of small strokes”, Jayden says.

A year after his heart and organs collapsed, Jason has now made it on to the heart transplant waiting list and, however long the wait, he knows he’s lucky. “Every day extra with my son is a bonus. I know many people around the world don’t get a second chance and they die.”

Learn about how your heart works