I want to dedicate this book to my mom, Yang Wei, and my grandparents, Ji Feng Wei, and Suzan Zhang. I would also like to honor Victoria as the brains behind the recipes.
Yang Wei (Page 27) – Mom
Suzan Zhang (Page 28) – Grandma
Ji Feng Wei (Page 29) – Grandpa
My History with Food:
During the prime time of my disease, I underwent a procedure to place a g-tube inside of me.
I needed that g-tube because I wasn’t holding food down properly. Therefore, I was using my g-tube full time. We used to insert cans of Nutren 2.0, a nutrition shake utilized by children with malnutrition, into me through the g-tube every day.
When I grew older, I got better. I had my Glenn procedure at Lucile Packard, and I started to hold down my food (since my health improved). However, we didn’t pull out the g-tube yet because I wasn’t eating full time.
How can I describe my lack of appetite, but still eating?
It’s tough to describe. I’m sorry if I don’t explain myself well.
To explain myself, I want to differentiate my definitions (probably not official definitions) of hunger and appetite. To me, hunger is the natural need to eat while appetite is the desire to eat.
Sometimes I could be hungry and feel those hunger pangs, but if I didn’t find food appetizing, I wouldn’t eat. Or if I found a greasy, delicious, unhealthy burger appetizing, I would eat it whether or not I was hungry.
Something like that.
I still found food delicious, but I didn’t eat full time. I ate when I wanted to eat, not when I needed to eat.
With the ability to eat, we lowered the amount to two cans of Nutren 2.0 inserted into me every night when I went to sleep. My goal was to consume 2,000 calories daily. Two cans of Nutren 2.0 provided me with 1,000 calories (each can was 500 calories) while I ate the other 1,000 calories throughout the day.
So I grew up using my g-tube, and I never questioned it that much.
Around the first or third grade, my tutor, Kathy, introduced me to the world of cooking. When I finished my homework, Kathy would teach me how to cook.
I considered cooking extremely fun. We took simple ingredients – spaghetti, tomatoes, basil, parmesan – and mixed them into yummy, tasty goodness.
It was a fascinating process. Nevertheless, sometimes I’d still not have an appetite and wouldn’t eat my creations. 🤷♂️
Cooking became a hobby of mine. I carried it with me as I grew up, even if I didn’t eat food.
Everything clicked when my mom finally told me about my past. It was like, oh! That’s why I have a g-tube!
Immediately after my heart transplant, it was very hard.
If you remember, I described the hospital as a place where time seems to stop. A second feels like a minute, a minute seems like an hour, and an hour feels like a day.
I passed the time by watching tons of movies (Mission Impossible: dun dun dun dun dun dun) and also Food Network. I didn’t care much for competition shows like Iron Chef or Master Chef, but I loved the Pioneer Women or Barefoot Contessa where they showed the cooking process of making food.
When I was discharged from the hospital, they transferred me to the Ronald McDonald House, a nearby housing facility, for three months. The Ronald McDonald House had a communal kitchen complete with shared stoves, ovens, pantries, refrigerators, and freezers.
To get back into the swing of things, one of the first things I did at the Ronald McDonald House was cook.
It doesn’t seem like much, but going to grab the pots and pans from the cabinets to moving to the pantry for herbs and spices and returning to the stove with ingredients to start cooking was like physical therapy for me.
Not only that, it was a gateway to real exercise. Cooking made me stronger, and by pushing my limits, I was able to start walking on the treadmill to eventually swimming.
Another incredible fact is that an appetite returns post-transplant. Suddenly, I wanted to eat. I wanted to eat a lot. And not just junk food. Post-transplant I was willing to try anything – including salads.
My heart transplant gave me a clean slate to start over. It was time for me to take control of my health and determine how I would live my life.
I wanted to know what it was like having a healthy life. And a healthy life didn’t include a g-tube.
I wanted the g-tube OUT. I wanted it gone. I wanted it gone with the wind. 💨
There were two options: drink Nutren 2.0 by mouth or eat enough daily. I gagged at the thought of drinking Nutren 2.0, much less forcing it all down my throat.
The catch to eating full time is that patients had to prove themselves able. I had to wait at least six months without using the g-tube before my doctor was willing to pull it out.
I could eat. How hard could it be?
I was at the Ronald McDonald House when Make-A-Wish contacted me. Before I knew it, there was a representative outside the Ronald McDonald House’s door. She asked me what I wanted, and I honestly didn’t know.
My first idea was to install solar panels on my roof, but my mom said that was a dumb idea. My second idea was to go on a food trip across Europe or Italy, and my mom said that was a dumb idea. My third idea was the brilliant idea: why not create a heart-healthy cookbook?
This cookbook would not only help me to eat healthier but also help me to eat, which was great.
My main goal of this cookbook was to get my g-tube out. On top of that, there were three more specific goals:
- be healthy
- be convenient
- be Tasty
On June 12, 2019, I got my g-tube out. It was R E M O V E D.
Honestly, that was a whole bunch of work for two inches of plastic or polyester or plastic or smth.
But it worked!
I am so happy that I removed my g-tube. Now when I slide my hands up and down my belly, it’s completely flat (woohoo I can develop abs yay).
More seriously, I regard the removal of the g-tube as a milestone. Maybe I’m sentimental, but my g-tube was the last remaining bit of my past disease in my body. My old heart was replaced, my g-tube was gone, and I gained a cookbook.
Every week, Victoria, the chef who agreed to work with me, would meet up with me, and we would create recipes that were healthy, convenient, and Tasty.
I made this cookbook specifically for heart patients or transplant patients, but you can use this cookbook for any healthy living. The trick to converting a recipe into a “heart-healthy” recipe is by adding vegetables and reducing sodium and fat.
I originally created this cookbook with only me in mind, but I realized that it could help other people. That’s why I published the entire thing on my blog for free.
Now I have a new goal: If Justin’s Hearty Recipes can help even one person, then it’s done its job.
I hope you find my recipes useful and try them out if they interest you.
Before I go, I want to thank Make-A-Wish for the incredible experience. Make-A-Wish did so much for me, and they don’t expect anything in return.
Also, please consider being an organ donor. Registering takes as little as five minutes, and it saves many people’s lives. I’m just one example of a heart transplant recipient, but the number of organ recipients out there with similar stories will shock you.
What is the cookbook?
Justin’s Hearty Recipes is a collection of recipes Victoria, the chef, and I worked on. The recipes are especially designed for patients who have underwent organ transplants, but also for patients with heart conditions or chronic illnesses.
Why was the cookbook created?
Justin’s Hearty Recipes was created because after my heart transplant I was determined to stay healthy. Eating healthy crucial towards health, so I decided a cookbook would help me in that aspect.
Why is it named Justin’s Hearty Recipes?
It has Justin in it because that’s my name. I decided to call the recipes hearty” because I wanted a way to include heart, and to emphasize that a heart transplant would always be an important part of my life.
Who sponsored the cookbook?
Make-A-Wish sponsored the cookbook. Make-A-Wish grants “wishes” for children with chronic illnesses, and I was eligible for a wish. Thanks to them, I was able to create these recipes.
Visit April 30, 2019 to hear about the amazing release of Justin’s Hearty Recipes.