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In 1992, Eddie Sabat was a carefree 18-year-old who loved hockey and dreamed of going pro.
During an appendectomy surgical procedure that same year, his physicians noticed he had a heart murmur. He was soon diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick and can make it harder for the heart to pump blood. His cardiologist recommended a pacemaker.
A life-changing diagnosis
This was a diagnosis that changed Sabat's life forever, but he has not let it hold him back. Despite challenges, he has continued to live an active life.
"Eddie is a sterling example of someone who goes the extra mile to take things to the next level," said Dr. Heather Ross, Director of the Ted Rogers Centre of Excellence in Heart Function, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, who treated Sabat during this time. "When Eddie puts his heart into something, he goes the whole distance, whether it is training, competing in the World Games, or living a full, active and purposeful life."
For many years his pacemaker and medication successfully worked in tandem to keep him healthy. But in 2002, Sabat began to experience episodes that landed him back in hospital.
"My doctors performed a number of tests," he said. "I received the news that my heart was failing and I needed a new one."
Breathing new life
In January 2003, shortly before his 29th birthday, Sabat got the news that he was a heart candidate. Based on his height, weight and blood type, his doctor estimated it would be a four to six month wait.
He was very lucky: two and a half weeks later, Sabat got his call.
Waking up from his surgery, Sabat could finally breathe without difficulty for the first time in many years. With a new lease on life, he proposed on the spot to his girlfriend, who said yes.
"With our heart patients and transplant recipients, we try and foster a sense of what each person would most like to do and accomplish – without limits!" said Ross, who is also the Director of the Cardiac Transplant Program at Toronto General Hospital. "That means different things to different people. For Eddie, that meant competing in the World Transplant Games, and what an incredible job he did in achieving that goal."
Sabat goes for the 'gold'
In September 2003, Sabat came to Toronto Rehab's Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehab program, with one goal in mind: to participate in the World Transplant Games.
To help him achieve his goal, Sabat saw his cardiac supervisor Rob Bertelink once per week for six months. Rob gave him momentum and confidence to work towards his goal.
In 2005, Sabat became a World Transplant Games gold medallist in golf. In addition, he finished the 5k mini-run. Until he began rehab, Sabat could not walk without huffing and puffing; finishing the race was a huge accomplishment.
Sabat knows he could not have come this far without the support of his health-care team at Toronto Rehab.
"It was so comforting to have a trusted voice in your corner to get you back on track," he said. "To encourage, support and advocate for you."
Making plans for the future - "lucky to be alive" says Sabat
Sabat continues to make his health, his two daughters and his wife the focus of his life. He chooses to give back to the transplant and cardiac community by promoting transplantation through the Heart Links Program, a support group of heart transplant patients, and speaking about his experience at high schools and work places on behalf of the Trillium Gift of Life Network. To learn more about organ donation, visit www.beadonor.ca.
He has also fundraised for Toronto Rehab's On Track to Cardiac Recovery walkathon. "I'm very happy to give back to a place that helped me restore my life," he said.
He continues to monitor his heart health, having regular biopsies and appointments.
"The biggest change with my new heart has been the ability to finally think about and plan for my future," said Sabat. "Before, I wasn't able to do that."
Eleven years after his heart transplant, Sabat looks at his life as a gift; a gift from his Toronto Rehab and Peter Munk Cardiac Centre teams, and all those who have supported him over the years.
"I know how lucky I am to be alive," he said. "I'm thankful every day."
Support cardiac rehabilitationOn Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, the Toronto Rehab Foundation will host its 11th annual On Track to Cardiac Recovery walk to support cardiac rehabilitation. You can walk, sponsor a participant, or volunteer to help the program reach its goal. For more information or to register today, please visit www.walkontrack.ca.