Where They Are Now: ft. Jacob

Standing at an imposing 6’3 height, looking at Jacob you wouldn’t know he had a heart problem growing up. Born and raised in Toronto, Jacob was only too familiar with Sick Kids Hospital and living with a lifelong heart condition. But at 22 years old, Jacob has learned to live with his condition and we at Chai Lifeline were able to meet with him so he could update us on how he is doing.

Those that have been part of our Chai family may recognize Jacob from some of our Sing for the Children concerts we have held over the past decade. As an annual fundraising event in support of our organization, we always take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our Chai Warriors. In 2017, Jacob shared his story from the stage at Roy Thompson Hall.

Living with a rare form of cardiomyopathy, Jacob was just five years-old when he first fainted, resulting in receiving both a defibrillator and pace maker to short success. With the constant travels to and from the hospital for different strategies, it was at eight years-old when his parents were told by his team of doctors at Sick Kids Hospital that his pacemaker and defibrillator were not working. He was growing too tall, too fast and his doctors recommended that an emergency heart transplant would be the only successful path. After receiving a heart at such a young age, his doctors marvelled at the speed at which Jacob was both fortunate enough to become a recipient and recover. He still remembers the feeling of finally being able to leave the hospital after living there for three and a half months. He had despaired from ever truly going home, and thought they were taking him for a walk to Marnie’s Lounge, an activity room in Sick Kids Hospital!

But just as anyone who knows Jacob would imagine, this easygoing and optimistic boy learned quickly enough to adapt to his replacement heart. For his first three weeks home, with a fresh scar, Jacob was very frightened to do too much. But kids will be kids – they are resilient. Before long, Jacob was back at school, at first for only half a day. Taking things easy, he used the elevator instead of the stairs to get to his classes on the fifth floor. Just a few short weeks later, he was back full-time, with a few modifications in his day-to-day school life. Wearing an umpire’s protective chest plate for any physical activity he participated in was something that didn’t faze him — he was just happy to be back at school – and thankfully is something he doesn’t need to do anymore!

Fast-forward a few years…

After, graduating from Darchei Torah High School in 2017, Jacob spent two years in Israel at a Yeshivat Noam Hatorah. For both half his high school and yeshiva years, Jacob was riddled with anxiety and stress which caused other health problems for him. It is not only common for a person to have concerns about their health post trauma, but it’s something we assume happens. A lot of what-ifs go through a person’s mind and sometimes it is enough stress to make anyone feel unwell. What is amazing about Jacob is that he learned how to cope and manage his anxieties, and still continues to learn how to handle it.

“No matter what it seems like,” says Jacob, “it’s not that bad. A year later, it will feel like nothing anymore. The bigger things are more important to focus on.”

While in Israel, Jacob connected with Dr. Tuvia Ben Gal, a heart specialist at Rabin Medical Centre in Petah Tikva. Dr. Ben Gal understood Jacob’s medical history and he checked in on Jacob often and was there for Jacob’s quarterly hospital visits.

The best part of his Israel experience? No one knew his story. To them, Jacob was just Jacob and he could be himself. His friends were surprised when they found out that he had a heart condition! And that is just how Jacob was. Shy, unassuming and humble, practicing his Hebrew and looking toward his future.

Which brings us to today. As of Spring of 2021, Jacob is enrolled in Landers College for Men in New York. He is studying management marketing with a business application, and he hopes to finish before summer 2022. It is his dream to work at Chai Lifeline Canada one day and give back to the organization that supported him and his family.

“I miss everything,” said Jacob. “I am not outside, I can’t play sports.” And yet, he believes that he is not alone. “No matter how difficult, God put me in this situation and knows I can handle it. He believes in me more than I believe in myself.”

Despite everything, Jacob maintains an upbeat outlook on life. He knows his life will continue to be filled with appointments, checkups and blood tests. He knows trips will need to be carefully planned, and certain activities might not be an option for him to experience. But he has unequivocal belief that a higher being is with him and has faith in his ability to overcome challenges placed in his path.

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