From a terminal heart failure patient to a university student, mentor, and public speaker, HKUST’s third-year business management student Krishna JHANGIANI (KJ) has hardly had a conventional study journey. Recently recognized by the Dean of Students’ Office for his community service, KJ is the embodiment of resilience, and determined to innovate to give himself and others a new lease of life.
“It was like living in a bubble for 16 years and the bubble just popped,” KJ describes his near-death experience. From the massive smile that he is wearing, you would struggle to believe what he has been through.
In 2016, while KJ was traveling in India to visit his friends during the summer holiday, he fell ill with a stomachache. He put this down to a travel bug but his condition continued to deteriorate on returning to Hong Kong. Three days before his 17th birthday, KJ was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and dilated cardiomyopathy.
“The rate your heart pumps blood around your body is normally about 60 percent, but I was told mine was 15. I kept hearing I had days, hours, and even minutes left to live,” he recalls.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
KJ was hospitalized at Queen Mary Hospital for four months. While being put on the heart transplant waiting list, KJ underwent an open-heart surgery to implant a Left-ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), a fully functioning mechanical heart that helps the left-ventricle pump blood to the body. Upon the surgery KJ experienced the “lowest point of his life”.
“I woke up from anaesthesia seeing lots of tubes around my body and feeling immense pain. At that point I knew my life was not going to be normal,” says KJ. “It felt like the end of the world and the only thing I did was cry.”
“I am grateful to the patient that stayed in the bed opposite mine. I woke up every day and the first thing I saw was his smile,” he says. “Then I set a goal to myself that I would get out of the hospital before Christmas.” KJ began physiotherapy treatments soon after.
“When I was on the treadmill for my physiotherapy session, I would go behind the physiotherapist’s back and turn up the speed. He said I was a crazy man.”
KJ recovered well after the surgery and was able to return home in time for Christmas.
Challenges keep coming
After taking a year off from secondary school, KJ resumed his studies but his results were far from the grades needed for a place at any university. KJ would not settle with any university but only HKUST, attracted to its reputation and all-rounded experience his friends had told him about.
“I watched the same introductory video of HKUST before bed each night. Even my parents were fed up with me.”
KJ went straight to the library every day to study after school. He worked so hard that people around him started to worry about his health.
“Everyone told me HKUST was out of my reach and my teacher said a passing mark should be good enough. But I knew that what I wanted was an amazing grade.”
KJ continued to immerse himself in his studies and was eventually given a full scholarship to study at HKUST’s School of Business.
Fruitful campus life
“The first year at my dream university was awesome,” says KJ. “I lived on campus, participated in lots of activities and made a lot of friends.” Given his health conditions, university staff offered various kinds of support to help him stay on top of his studies.
KJ’s university experience was enriched with the help of a backpack he designed with his parents, tailors, and nurses to store his medical device. “Just like you plug your phone in at the end of the day, I plug my machines in,” he explains.
He also had to ensure even weight distribution and durability so that the backpack could withstand the weight of the machines (approximately 3.5kg), his computer and additional items. KJ hopes to begin fundraising to patent the backpack, hoping to produce them on a larger scale to improve the everyday experience of people with the same health care requirements.
Voluntary work is another big part of KJ’s life. Serving as an active ambassador and fundraiser for the Children’s Heart Foundation, KJ attends networking and public speaking events, and acts as a mentor for their young patients to share his optimism. KJ was recently awarded the Dean of Students’ Office’s Roy To Community Service Award for his contributions to the community and his generosity of spirit.
The power of positivity
When asked how he maintains a sense of strength, he replies, “I always tell people around me that instead of focusing on the negative, always analyze the situation you are facing and find the perfect approach to turn it into a positive one”.
“In the end, it’s about how much you want it.”
While busy studying, he obtained an internship with a finance company and completed a 24-hour jogging race. His next goal is to build a career in finance.
Asked what he has come to value most, he replies without hesitation, “Happiness. If you’re not happy, you’re not living your life.” While his journey may have started at 15 percent, it’s clear that KJ’s admirable optimism in the face of overwhelming obstacles has helped him live life to the fullest, and that is how he treats life now:
“Wake up every morning with an attitude of gratitude.”