Teen heart transplant recipient celebrates launch of new heart-healthy cookbook

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When you've been faced with a life-threatening condition most of your life, a second chance often offers an opportunity to celebrate the simple things many of us take for granted.

For 16-year-old Pleasanton resident Justin Wang, the basic human experience of appetite was something that he has truly cherished since receiving a new heart in a transplant surgery last year.

"Justin’s ailing heart left him with a diminished appetite, but after the heart transplant, Justin now says he 'has a yearning for delicious food,'" Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area spokeswoman Monica Lynch told KTVU.

The non-profit has been working with the teen to help him carry out his dream to collaborate with a professional chef and create a heart-healthy cookbook, which he hopes will help other families who are coping with illnesses.

The cookbook is called “Justin’s Hearty Recipes.” 

On Tuesday, it's set to be unveiled in an event with Make-A-Wish and Ronald McDonald House at Stanford, where Wang will join his co-author, Chef Victoria Lacuesta of East Bay Healthy Chef to celebrate the moment.

It was a six month project, that was followed by a long, difficulty journey for Wang and his family.

Wang was only 2 years old when he was diagnosed with an extremely rare blood disorder called Hyper-Eosinophilic syndrome, also known as Loeffler’s syndrome. He was rushed to the hospital one day, with a fever and swollen face.

He was then transferred to the intensive care unit at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, where it took doctors almost one month to diagnose him. Soon after, doctors began chemotherapy to help control the illness. 

But there were complications. The disorder led to significant damage to the right ventricle of Justin’s heart, according to Lynch.

At age 4, Wang underwent his first open-heart surgery at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. 

"Justin’s parents were told that additional surgeries would likely be required, but they chose not to share that with Justin so he wouldn't grow up in fear," Lynch explained.

In late 2017, the teen's heart began a rapid decline, and doctors determined the boy would need a heart transplant.

The news was grim as Wang's family was told to prepare for a long wait that could take months or years.

But 17 days after being placed on the heart transplant waiting list, the family received life-saving news. The call came in the middle of the night and his parents were told there was a match.

Last Saturday marked exactly one year since Justin Wang received his new heart.

On that day, the teen who has been sharing his experiences in his blog, My Transplant Journey, wrote, "I cannot emphasize how important today is. The one year mark is my promise land: filled with happiness, liberty, and freedom."

He acknowledged that a year ago, he was filled with despair and mired in unimaginable pain, but with not much to hold on to, he told himself, “'One year from now everything and everything will change.'”

Those words came true.

"I didn't expect the pain to get to where I am right now, but I got here," Wang wrote. "Not only did I survive, but I thrived." 

And three days after that anniversary marking his new beginning, the high school sophomore is celebrating a wish come true: to create dishes he once could not enjoy, inspired by his determination to take care of his new heart.

It's an accomplishment buoyed by his new attitude: "There is hope in the world," Wang wrote, "Yes, I can persist through anything."