Andrew Jones may have the biggest, most courageous heart you’ve ever heard of. But due to a life-threatening heart condition, he needs a new one.
In the meantime, he’s spreading the message of the importance of organ donation for the 120,000 people like him across the nation.
Jones, 26, a professional fitness model born in Ohio but currently living in Farmington, Connecticut, relies on a ventricular assist device to survive. It takes blood from his lower heart chamber and helps to pump it to the rest of his body. He is constantly connected to two batteries and a small computer that he carries around wherever he goes and it is keeping him alive as he waits for a donor.
“The pump functions electronically. I need a source of power all the time which is why I have the backpack,” Jones states matter-of-factly. “When I go to sleep, I disconnect one of the batteries and plug into a wall outlet. So I’m getting power from the wall and that’s how I sleep.”
Jones’ own non-profit, Hearts at Large, seeks to connect and provide support for those waiting for organ transplants, and prevent individuals from actually needing one.
“We want to help advance the technology and research that’s being done to not only allow for more successful transplants, but to get to the point where we won’t need people to have to get transplants,” said Jones. “And that’s going to have to be educating the masses on how to live healthy lives and how to prevent needing to have to have an organ transplant.”
In 2012, at the age of 22, Jones was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The condition results in a thickening of the heart muscles, and the cause isn’t apparent. Currently there is no cure, but it can be helped through treatment.
“I had just gone for a run and you know, it wasn’t anything very drastic,” Jones said, describing the months leading up to his diagnosis. “It was just a mild shortness of breath and I was gasping for air. But it struck the wrong tone with me because I know my body better than anybody else and this was just not normal.”
Jones says he was actually suffering from heart failure for quite some time before his diagnosis.
“I was in and out of the hospital and I was admitted to Hartford Hospital for a little bit over four months to await a heart transplant. And the reason why I had the artificial assisted device implanted was because my condition was beginning to deteriorate. It wasn’t that it was a sudden drastic change, but the fact that my heart was continuing to fail despite all of the medications and close treatment that I was getting.”
The implant allows Jones’ heart to function normally while he awaits a transplant. He credits his pre-existing healthy lifestyle for being alive today.
“It just so happens that I was very involved in health and fitness. I didn’t know that I’d be preparing myself for a much larger battle, I was just doing this because I wanted to become a leader in the fitness industry.”
The result of Jones’ drive and determination has been a successful career as a male fitness model. He has won several awards from World Beauty Fitness and Fashion and has built a brand, AJFitness, which promotes health and fitness. In his motivational YouTube videos he is shown lifting weights while carrying his artificial heart pump.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, Jones is one of more than 120,000 people in need of a lifesaving organ transplant. Of those individuals, more than 77,000 people are actively waiting for an organ to become available.
As for Jones, he plans on living life to the fullest.
“If there’s something that you want to do and you can’t stop thinking about it, you have to take care of it,” he said. “It’s not going to leave your mind until you act on it. That goes for everything.”