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Fighting for a heart transplant, Omaha man drops 140 pounds in one year and quits smoking

Fighting for a heart transplant, Omaha man drops 140 pounds in one year and quits smoking

Something didn’t feel right one rainy April morning when Joe Adams went into work.

He chalked it up to pneumonia, a diagnosis he got a few weeks earlier — his shallow breathing was probably a lingering symptom. While Adams waited to see if his doctor could squeeze in an appointment, he got to work doing golf course maintenance.

By the end of the day, things still felt off. Adams called his doctor’s office again, and they encouraged him to go to the emergency room.

He thought about going home as he left work. But he turned toward the hospital. He hesitated again — to smoke a cigarette in his car — before going into the building.

A nurse took him back and offered to get him a wheelchair. Adams took two more steps and slumped against a wall.

The Omaha man had a heart attack. He underwent numerous procedures to get his heart in working order. Just when it seemed things were on the right track, his heart started to fail again. He needed a transplant.

But to get on the list, he would need to address his weight, his diabetes diagnosis and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Four years later and 140 pounds lighter, Adams is no longer diabetic. He stopped smoking. The 54-year-old Omaha man landed a spot on the transplant list.

Now, he works out six days a week to stay in shape and prep for a transplant.

“This is my new normal,” Adams said. “The things I’m doing now are the things I should have been doing years ago.”

Q: When did you start working out and why?

A: I started a year ago this month. I was 360 pounds and I smoked 2½ packs of cigarettes a day. In a year, since I’ve been at (the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Engage Wellness), I’ve lost almost 140 pounds and quit smoking. I had to lose weight to get on the transplant list. Everything I do now is in preparation for the transplant.

Q: Describe your workouts. How many days per week do you exercise?

A: I do about an hour of cardio in the morning to work on stamina. I do the elliptical, stationary bike or rowing machine. Then I do strength training. I’m limited to what I can do. They don’t want me to lift more than 10 to 20 pounds. I come six days a week.

Q: What is your current fitness goal?

A: I still want to lose about 30 more pounds. I want to have enough strength and stamina to get through the recovery of the transplant. The work is not done after the transplant. I’ll continue to do this for the rest of my life.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment?

A: Getting listed for a heart transplant. That took me two years. I had to drop the weight, lose the diabetes. They’re not going to give a heart to someone who isn’t going to take care of it.

Q: What has been the toughest hurdle and how did you overcome it?

A: How much it brought me down. My mind said I can do all these things, but my body said no. It takes time.

Q: What helps you stay on track?

A: Knowing that I need to do this. If I don’t, I’ll be right back to where I was.

Q: What is your gym pet peeve?

A: My pet peeve is when people aren’t courteous. But here, everybody takes care of the machines and everybody cares about everybody else.

Q: What do you do when you aren’t in the gym?

A: I talk with LVAD (left ventricular assist device) patients and I help when they do instructional classes on the LVAD. (LVAD is a mechanical pump placed on the heart to help pump blood to the rest of the body. Adams wears the battery packs and controller in a small black bag that hangs across his body.) I have a 2-year-old Chihuahua named Nacho. I walk him four times a day.

Q: What is the piece of equipment, supplement, clothing, etc. that you can’t live without?

A: I like the rowing machine. If I could only do one machine here, it’d be that rowing machine. You get a complete workout. I also always have earbuds to listen to music.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting their fitness journey?

A: Set attainable goals. Don’t reach out too far. Set goals you know you’re going to achieve. Some days it’s small steps, but you keep moving forward. You’re not there to impress anybody. You’re there to get in shape.

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