KINGMAN - Jose Alcantar greets strangers with a handshake and warm smile, something you might not think likely in view of him undergoing a heart transplant on Nov. 1.
Alcantar, 57, was engaged in home repair work last spring when he began experiencing shortness of breath and some difficulty in lifting. He could not understand the swelling he experienced below the waist for nearly three months.
In July, he went to the emergency room at Kingman Regional Medical Center, where testing indicated he had suffered a heart attack. Dr. Ismail Bokhari, a cardiologist, was called in for consultation.
"Both the ER doctor and Dr. Bokhari told me if I had waited 1-2 more days I would have died," Alcantar said. "They admitted me and eventually brought down the swelling with IV fluids."
Alcantar was hospitalized about two months.
He went home briefly, but returned with the shortness of breath and said Bokhari told him his heart was beginning to shut down. A pacemaker was put into Alcantar's chest that helped some, but the prognosis was not good.
An air ambulance service flew him to Tucson at the beginning of October and he entered University Medical Center for additional tests.
"Doctors and nurses who saw me each day looked scared and would ask me how I felt," he said. "I always smiled and told them I was OK."
Alcantar said he weighed 165 pounds before the heart attack. His weight continued to drop, despite being put on different diets in Tucson.
On Oct. 31, he learned he was being placed on a list for heart transplants. The wait to find a matching donor was barely 24 hours.
"That was a miracle," he said. "I didn't know if I would make it, so I prayed a lot and asked the man upstairs to take me as I am. I felt a sense of peace."
A team of cardiac specialists operated Nov. 1. The surgery was expected to last five hours, but was over in two and a half, Alcantar said.
Alcantar remained in the hospital for 10 days, then was driven back to Kingman by a friend. His weight was 120 pounds.
He now takes 12 medications twice a day, including four anti-rejection drugs. He will remain on those medications for the rest of his life.
"I feel pretty good now, although I still am a little scared because I'm always thinking I must take care of my chest," Alcantar said. "The scar has not healed.
"Whenever I cough or take a deep breath I do this (arms folded across chest) to hold myself up."
Alcantar sees Bokhari for periodic check-ups and must return to University Medical Center for a check-up every six months.
"What I would say to people is if you're experiencing shortness of breath, dizziness and your legs are swollen, go and be checked," he said.