Swift Current resident receiving community support as he waits for heart transplant surgery
A Swift Current resident who has been an active volunteer in the community in support of refugee families is now facing a new challenge as he prepares for heart transplant surgery.
Sammy Khalife is a health care worker and a Swift Current resident since July 2015. Since his arrival in the community he has become actively involved with the work of the Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association (SCAMA) Refugee Committee, both as a translator and as a health coordinator.
Last year he visited a refugee camp in Lebanon and afterwards he started a GoFundMe campaign to sponsor a refugee family from Syria.
Recently his own health has suffered a serious setback and he is now unable to work while he waits for a heart transplant.
“In one month I got two heart failures,” he said. "I was in the ICU here and was airlifted to an ICU in Saskatoon, and I was very close to death. So they've just started the preparation for my transplant. There is a lot of testing that needs to be done, a lot of coordination with the family doctor, public health, home care, physiotherapy. I need to put a plan together before Oct. 2, when I have a big assessment in Edmonton, because that's where the transplant team is, and after that any minute I can get a heart.”
He suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary heart condition that already had a devastating effect on his family.
“I lost my mom, my brother and my sister for the same condition,” he said. “My sister was 16, but I was told when I'm older I might need a heart transplant. ... The last testing showed that my heart functions at less than 25 per cent. The life expectancy is anywhere from six months to a year, which put me right away on the transplant list.”
Khalife is now 34 years old, the same age as his brother who passed away due to this congenital heart issue. He faces a long road to recovery after the heart transplant and he will have to remain in Edmonton for at least three months before he can return to Swift Current. During his recovery at home he needs to have a family member with him, but he does not have any family in Canada. He grew up in Lebanon and he still has relatives there.
“My sister is able to come on a visitor's visa,” he said. “So my sister will be here with me as long as she is allowed to or she can.”
The soonest he will be able to work again is a year after the transplant, but in most cases it will be 18 months. He is facing significant financial expenses during this time, including the cost of staying in Edmonton and monthly medication costs of around $950.
“So the way it works right now with my benefits, by December probably I won't have any benefits left,” he said. “If the surgery is expected to happen end of October or the beginning of November, that means my benefits will expire at the time they're needed the most.”
A friend, Sandra Sadden, has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for him, but he was initially reluctant when she suggested the idea to him.
“When she came with the idea, I said no. I don't like to be in need, and I said no, I'm not going to do it,” he recalled. “I can't believe how life can change from being a helper and collecting money to help people and now you are the person that people are trying to help. So I said no at first, but then when I looked into my benefits and I called my benefits provider and a lawyer and figured out that I won't have benefits anytime soon, I really didn't have any other option than to say yes.”
He has been surprised by the support from people in the community and he is now feeling even more at home in Swift Current.
“It was just a amazing to see that people actually cared for me,” he said. “I didn't grow up here, I've only been here for a couple of years. So I just don't feel like I'm a stranger anymore or an outsider.”
This experience has strengthened his resolve to remain involved with the activities of the SCAMA Refugee Committee, which is currently preparing to welcome another refugee family to Swift Current, and he will rely on his faith to help him through his health struggle.
“Personally I have been through many difficult positions and in any situation I say in God I trust,” he mentioned. “I leave it to the best physician, our Lord. He has a plan and it will work out. I'll keep positive and I'm very lucky and impressed how the community in Swift Current came together to support me and stand by me.”
The GoFundMe page that was set up for him is called Sammy's Heart Transplant Journey and the website link is: www.gofundme.com/sammy039s-hearttransplant-journey