DES MOINES, Iowa — Good things come to those who wait.
“I’m actually free. The shackle is gone,” said Khalil Adams.
Diagnosed at 21 with dilated cardiomyopathy, Khalil’s heart was too large. “I ran up the stairs and ran back down and my heart just started pounding to the point that I could actually see my shirt moving,” he said.
A seemingly fit and well-conditioned former high school swimmer at Des Moines Roosevelt was quickly put on a heart transplant donor waitlist. “Within 24 hours of lifting weights and living life and everything going great and then you get that crashing note,” Khalil said.
Doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device or L-VAD in his chest to keep his heart going but Khalil continued to wait for a transplant. “It is placed on your heart, sewed onto your heart and a wire that comes out and onto a big controller,” said Khalil.
In 2022, five years later Khalil’s condition got worse. He said, “A little blood clot actually in the heart.”
Khalil was losing energy and his father Desmund Adams was possibly losing time with his son. “Most challenging experience of my life. Most harrowing experience of my life. The closest I’ve ever been to God,” said Desmund.
Khalil never lost his spirit and would often sing with his caregivers in the hospital. “Give yourself over to a level of jubilance, especially in hard times,” Khalil said.
The clot was a blessing in disguise. The worsened condition accelerated him on the list and in 2022 the University of Iowa Hospital found a match and a successful heart transplant surgery was completed in late December. Khalil said, “That was a very quiet day. All the family came to the hospital room that morning and we sat in silence knowing the gravity of what we are walking into.”
For Khalil and his family, that particular wait showed them wonder. Desmund said, “My son has been incredibly strong, It’s been phenomenal. It’s added a tremendous strength to me and the family.”
More often for minorities, the wait never ends. A 2022 study supported by the National Institutes of Health found that after following 277 white patients in need of a heart transplant or VAD 22% received the life-saving equipment needed. When it came to the 100 African-American patients the study followed at the same hospitals that number was cut in half to only 11%.
Khalil said, “As unfortunate as I may be when it comes to health I am wildly fortunate with family and friends willing to help with support.”
The heart condition prompted Khalil’s mother, Tinika Roland to get genetic testing where she and several other family members learned a mutated gene that puts them at risk for heart failure runs in their family. Tinika said, “For 47 years, I did not know I had the possibility of developing heart failure.”
Khalil’s journey possibly helped save others in the process as a few of them, including Tinika, received an implanted defibrillator as a precaution. She said, “Prevention can save lives, prevention can save families.”
The help Khalil received is never too far away. “A lot of love in this pillow right here,” Khalil said. A heart-shaped pillow with signatures provides comfort in multiple ways. “All of the doctors, the nurses, every bit of the staff I had a conversation with for 4 1/2 months.”
Having Shondalette Adams, director of operations home infusion at MercyOne as a step-mom is a big help in recovery. Staying on track with medication so his body accepts his new heart, Khalil is excited to get back to his passions of acting, modeling, and swimming. “Swimming was an important part of my life. A great workout and I haven’t been able to submerge myself in water for 5 1/2 years,” Khalil said.
If you are hoping to see where those passions will take him don’t worry just wait. Khalil said, “If you are in a hard time I think you should actually double down on whatever it is that makes you happy and enjoy yourself.”
The family established an online fundraiser to help with the enormous medical costs over the years. If you would like to donate, click here.