Andrew ‘AJ’ Jones is proof that a terminal illness should never stop you from doing what you love most.
The fitness model was told he’d need a heart transplant last year and was given a device which acts in place of his heart, pumping blood around his body. He carries this around in a battery-powered backpack.
Jones is on a waiting list for a heart transplant, but he doesn’t let that stop him from continuing his fitness regime and pursuing his dreams.
Jones first became passionate about fitness in 2009 when he began college.
“I found that I could work out and relieve my stresses of the day at the gym on campus,” he told The Huffington Post UK.
“I loved the way it made me feel and the way it made me look. I remained consistent and passionate and my discipline and patience grew - and those qualities began to reflect in everything I did.”
In 2015, Jones suffered breathing difficulties and began coughing up blood.
He was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease in which the muscle wall of the heart becomes thickened - resulting in the organ’s demise.
The 26-year-old fitness model from Connecticut was put on a transplant waiting list and given a left ventricular assist device, which does the job of an artificial heart and helps pump blood throughout the body.
At night, he keeps himself alive by plugging his device in to charge - just like he’d charge a mobile phone.
He said that despite his bleak prognosis, there was “no cause for alarm” and he was still able to continue training - albeit slowly.
“I still felt resilient,” he said. “I felt like nothing could beat me because I was still able to run, lift and participate in the activities that I loved.”
Jones’ passion for fitness and perseverance even helped him to go on and win a fitness modelling competition.
Jones, who has almost 25,000 followers on Instagram, is now on a transplant waiting list of 120,000 people.
He has also set up his own foundation to raise awareness of the need for donors and create a network for those in need of donations called ‘Hearts At Large’.
In the meantime, he is focused on maintaining his fitness regime and furthering his career. But he has to take precautions due to his health.
He said: “Right now I can do anything that doesn’t compromise the safety of my heart and my internal devices. I can only train my core with isometric (static) exercises.
“Doing sit-ups and crunches can irritate the entry port for my heart device and put me at risk of infection.”
His hopes for the future include receiving his new donor heart, as well as being able to afford his own place and get a new car. He was also recently accepted to study for a master’s degree in business administration.
“Being terminally ill for over two years set me back drastically,” he said. “My plans were ruined so it’s time to start over. I am patient.”
His advice for others waiting on a transplant list is simple: “Listen to your doctors and listen to your body. Stay healthy and believe in yourself.
“You are a light in a very dark room, which makes you the brightest.”
To keep up to date with his journey, follow AJ Fitness on Instagram.