Living with a heart condition: A Cape Town doctor tells his story

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A Cape Town doctor shares how he has adjusted to living with a heart condition for the past seven years.
A Cape Town doctor shares how he has adjusted to living with a heart condition for the past seven years.

He was only a teenager when he was diagnosed with a heart condition – dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a condition where the heart chambers become enlarged and affect its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.

Doctors told him he had only six months to live. But today, Khanyisa Pinda (26) is healthy and a doctor himself.

What’s more, he believes his condition has given him an advantage, as he is able to relate to his patients in a way some of his colleagues might not be able to achieve.

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“I was 18 years old when I found out that I had this heart condition,” Khanyisa tells Drum. “It was the beginning of 2013, while I was waiting for my matric results.

“I always say I am privileged compared to my other colleagues. Because being a doctor and a patient as someone who lives with a heart condition, I have had the privileged to understand both sides of the spectrum.

“I understand how frustrating it can be for doctors and patients, and that has made me have more empathy for my patients and I try to make them understand their conditions better and why we can only see them at specific times,” the Capetonian doctor say.

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Diagnosed with DCM

At the beginning of 2013, Khanyisani started feeling very sick. He experienced shortness of breath, had swollen feet, was coughing non-stop, and his normal daily activities became a struggle.

“I went to a general practitioner and the doctor at the time wasn’t sure what was wrong. He diagnosed me with pneumonia,” he says.

The treatment for pneumonia didn’t help his condition and he was referred to a specialist in Bloemfontein.

“The specialist then told me I had DCM.”

By this time, Khanyisa was a first-year medical student. But this didn’t stop him from questioning his diagnosis, especially since doctors couldn’t say what the cause was.

“It was only when I went into my third year in medical school that I started understanding my condition, since I was learning about it. I also got to understand why I needed to take my medication.”

This clarity helped him to start taking better care of himself.

“I think that was when there was a shift. Before that, I was in and out of the hospital because I was not taking my medication properly and that lead me to experience heart failure,” he tells us.

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Living with a heart condition

Khanyisa takes anti-heart failure medication twice a day, and a lot of other pills to support his heart and keep him healthy and functional.

“I am probably going to take medication for the rest of my life,” he says.

“I struggled in the beginning because I went from being completely healthy as a child to all of a sudden be on chronic medication. I have pushed to get to the point I am at.

“It really took time for me to get used to the medication. Now, even when I go out, I make sure I have my meds because I understand what they do for me.”

Medication and frequent check-ups have improved Khanyisa’s condition, allowing him to graduate and work as a doctor at New Somerset Hospital in Cape Town.

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Apart from the pills, he says he also pays attention to his diet and doesn’t strain himself physically.

Although he’s in good shape and living his dream of being a doctor, Khayisa’s life has limitations.

“There are things I can’t do now with my condition that I used to do before my diagnosis, including physical activity such as jogging, running and training.

“It’s still a struggle for me because I really want to run or hike when I see people doing it, but physically it’s impossible. I have had to adjust to my physical limitations,” he says.

At present, his heart functionality is 26% – a normal heart function is above 65%.

Advice for others with serious medical conditions

Khanyisa says one thing he’s learnt is that it’s very important for doctors to thoroughly explain a diagnosis to patients.

“It took me some time to understand my condition and take my medication,” he says. “And that’s because I was lacking the knowledge about my condition.”

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When a patient understands their condition, he says it is easier for them to take it seriously and take their medication and generally keep themselves healthy and safe.

“If a doctor tells you that you have a condition and gives you tablets without explaining in-depth why you are taking them, it becomes difficult.”

 On the other side of the coin, it’s also a patient’s duty to learn as much as they can about their condition

“If you have any condition, stay informed,” Khanyisa says. “Be actively involved with your health.”

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