For the media

A winding road to a healthier heart

By The Health News Team | June 1, 2021
Jeff Naemi was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 15. It took him decades to learn to manage his health.

Jeff Naemi was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 15. It took him decades to learn to manage his health.

Jeff Naemi likes to talk about his problems with a positive attitude. Before becoming disabled, he worked at grocery stores and gas stations, all while managing diabetes. Jeff was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 15. Now, at 47 years old, he defines his health as “mostly good, sometimes bad.”

At 28, he completely lost his eyesight, but regained it in one eye after starting dialysis. In 2013, he had a kidney and pancreas transplant. His most recent medical hurdle was in May 2020 when a diabetic ulcer on his left heel became infected. It would lead to a below-the-knee amputation and heart infection.

“Patients like Jeff, who’ve had an organ transplant, need to take medications to suppress their immune system so that their body does not reject the transplanted organ,” says Dr. Genaro F. Fernandez, a cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Burr Heart & Vascular Center. “Because of this, such patients are also more prone to infection since their immune system isn’t able to fully function. In this case, the infection from Jeff’s foot had entered his bloodstream and settled in his heart.”

Doctors administered antibiotic treatment to try to clear the bacterial infection in the mitral valve of his heart (endocarditis). But the medications were unsuccessful.

“At that point, the infection had eroded the leaflets and rings of the mitral valve,” says Dr. Alexandra Kharazi, a cardiologist also affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Burr Heart & Vascular Center. “We needed to do surgery to replace his mitral valve. That was the only way to get rid of the infection. This would be a risky surgery because he was at high risk for serious complications due to his many other health issues.”

In addition to endocarditis, diabetes, amputation, blindness and organ transplant, Jeff also had coronary artery disease and mitral valve regurgitation, also known as a leaky heart valve.

“Replacing his mitral valve would resolve the infection and regurgitation. We also performed coronary bypass grafting to address his coronary artery disease,” adds Dr. Kharazi.

Along with his cardiologists, it took a multidisciplinary team, including his nephrologist, Dr. Lucy Miller, to prepare Jeff for the open-heart operation to ensure that his body could handle the surgery.

A healthy outlook

Jeff had surgery in July, and recalls the wonderful care he received.

“I appreciate that Dr. Kharazi and Dr. Fernandez kept checking on me. They were checking me every day. There was not a day that I was in the hospital that they missed. They even updated my family, who was really happy with them.”

Jeff remained in a skilled nursing facility for nearly 7 months before he was well enough to return home.

“I finally went home on December 1,” recalls Jeff. “That was my first time having a heart issue. Now I check my blood pressure and blood sugar daily. I have good results and a great heart.”

In terms of Jeff’s other health challenges, he continues dialysis 3 times a week due to his original and transplanted kidneys failing. But he no longer has diabetes, and has adopted a healthier lifestyle.

“I watch my diet,” says Jeff. “I stay away from fried food and portion out what I can have during the day — salt, potassium and so on. I have become more aware of my body and health, and am in control of it.”

Jeff reflects on what he has gone through since his health challenges began in 1989.

“I was not compliant with my diabetic diet. And now, with all the problems I went through, I no longer have diabetes and I watch everything I do,” says Jeff. “Now I am a more positive person. My heart was saved, I learned how to walk again, there was so much I overcame. When I went home last December, Dr. Kharazi and Pristine Care at Home continued to care for me so that I could be well again,” says Jeff.

Jeff plans to start working soon, hopes to find a new kidney donor, and would like to use his experience to motivate others.

“No matter how good or bad things are, there’s always someone in a worse situation,” says Jeff. I want to help others with similar challenges. I want to teach them to love themselves and have faith in themselves no matter the situation.”

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.