Cafe owner has a change of heart

Shabbir and his wife Ruquay Bala are both feeling so much happier now that he received a heart transplant.  - Steve Powell
Shabbir and his wife Ruquay Bala are both feeling so much happier now that he received a heart transplant.
— image credit: Steve Powell

MARYSVILLE – Shabbir Bala has had a change of heart.

Not about an issue or anything like that. He literally has had a change of heart.
He received his heart during a six-hour surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center Jan. 9.
“They don’t tell you who the donor is, but a young person died in a tragic accident,” said Bala, who owns the Boondocker’s Cafe. “They donated all their organs, and the heart was the last thing they harvested.”
Bala received the phone call about midnight the night before.
“‘We have a heart for you. Be here in an hour,’” he said he was told.
His wife, Ruquay, started jumping up and down, but he remained calm.
“It was like he was in shock or something,” his wife said.
He called his sister in England, daughter in San Francisco and son in New York, who said he would be right there. But Bala said, “There’s nothing you can do,” and asked him to come instead once he was out of the hospital.
Bala got on a list for a new heart in October of 2014. For about a month he had been moved up to the priority list. He waited for a heart with his same blood and body type.
“People get on the list and never get it so they pass away,” he said.
Bala spent four days in intensive care.
“I was already ready to get out of there,” he said, adding the doctor replied: “Are you crazy? You just got out of surgery.”
Bala’s heart had been very weak since a heart attack in 2001. “The only option was this,” he said.
He was monitored very closely for weeks to make sure he didn’t reject the heart. All has been good so far.
His doctors tell him to stay away from the restaurant, but he admitted he cheated on Valentine’s Day and on a recent Saturday that was super busy. He is supposed to stay away from the public because his immune system is low due to drugs he is taking. He is not contagious, but others could be to him.
He was supposed to go to physical therapy, but he does so much walking he got out of that.
He did get in trouble from doctors for going to the gym.
“Too many people sweat” there, he said, adding he was told to wait to do that again.
Bala said he has received a lot of support from the community via the restaurant’s popular Facebook page.
“Customers are like family,” he said. “I appreciate all of the prayers. They help; it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Bala, who is Muslim, said his wife prays five times a day, but “we’ll take any prayers we can get.”
“Once I get better I’ll start prayers, too,” he added.
He said his wife has been just amazing. “She takes care of me, runs the business, buys all the groceries… All the pressure we put on her,” he said.
The Balas said one thing they learned during this time is that more people need to sign up to donate their organs when they die.
“The soul goes away,” Bala said.
Ruquay added: “We need more heart donors. Any body parts – a lot of people are waiting.”
UW only does 35 heart transplants a year. Bala made the transplant list at UW just in time, as they don't accept anyone over 65.
Bala said that he met a man in the hospital who received a lung from the same donor who gave his heart to Bala. One of their customers is waiting for a kidney. Bala said when he talked about all of this to another customer her eyes filled up with tears, and she said she would sign up to be a donor.
Bala came to the United States from Pakistan when he was 18 in 1970. His dad had a restaurant in the Middle East, and he wound up in the same business, coming to Marysville in 2006.
Bala said he wasn’t sure how he would feel about getting a new heart, but so far it’s all been positive.
“He’s less cranky, that’s for sure,” Ruquay said. “He’s in a better mood, can breath better and has more energy.”
Bala added: “I feel lucky, full of love and joy.”



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