At age 63, John Daniel is physically active every day of the week and makes wise food choices. To most, he is the perfect example of what it means to live healthily. Even doctors have told him that if it weren’t for his healthy habits, he would not be here.

Twenty years ago, a virus severely damaged the muscles in John’s heart that left it only 60% functioning. In the hopes of getting his heart to stabilize, he went through over 30 different procedures. Still, at the age of 60, his heart started to fail. For the next year, John waited on the heart transplant list and lived with an LVAD, a left ventricular assist device implanted in the heart to help it pump blood.

In September 2015, John received his new heart. Because he had taken such good care of himself he had a high chance of a successful transplant. He knows he’s alive today because of it. While it would have been easy to feel defeated, John stayed positive and relied on his wife, Leslie, their three sons, and his friends and coworkers at First Tennessee Bank to get through the challenging time.

“When I was going through the transplant and living with the machine in me and being in a hospital for life, I realized you have to have a vision about what you want to be on the other end. You need to surrender to your faith and let friends help you.”

During his heart transplant, John did his best to keep healthy. In the 60 days that he was in Baptist Hospital prior to the transplant, he worked out with weights—sometimes making the heart monitors go off. After such a huge surgery, doctors were concerned about his lowered immune systems. While John did get sick, he returned to work alarmingly fast after only four months of being in recovery.

“I worked out the whole time I was in the hospital and they thought I was crazy,” John says. “I knew it was easy to get down, but I wanted to remember there was life after this. It’s okay and human to be low, but you need to focus on the future.”

John continues to remain active. Before going to work every day, he wakes up at 4:45 am and works out at the Fogleman YMCA. He does weight circuits and walks on the treadmill for an hour. On the weekends, he enjoys walking and jogging along the river with Leslie near their home in Harbor Town. John reaches a minimum of 10,000 steps daily.

John also realizes the importance of eating healthy. During the process of the heart transplant, he lost 30 pounds from his already lean frame. However, he worked his way back to his normal size. He lives on a heart-healthy diet, avoids too much sugar, and limits his fat intake.

For John, surrounding himself with positive people is just as important as exercise and diet. His biggest supporter was his wife. “She lifted me up,” John says. Though Leslie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, “She stayed positive and upbeat.” Together, they overcame John’s heart transplant as well as her cancer.

In June 2017, John and Leslie completed a 25-mile Ride for Life, and John is now a chair of the American Heart Association. “I want to give back to the fact that I survived,” John says, and he acts as a role model for others and wants to encourage them. “We promised that if we survived we would tell our story,” John admits. “It’s humbling. Now that I’m on the other end, I want to say ‘you can do it’ to someone else.”

By Susanna Lancaster

Photo by Tindall Stephens