You can typically find Kemp Smeal enjoying the coastal vibe of Southern California in his free time.

He’s a talented professional musician who plays for two churches in Los Angeles and loves interacting with others. He works out regularly and enjoys a healthy lifestyle. When he’s not playing the organ and piano he’s busy running his own private practice in Long Beach as a psychotherapist.

“I love helping people feel inspired and I love making them feel better,” he says.

But, one day at work, Kemp realized he didn’t feel so good himself. He was with a client and realized he was having trouble breathing. He quickly got himself to the doctor who ordered him to go directly to an Emergency Room when he realized Kemp’s heart rate was sky high at 165 beats per minute.

After a series of tests at a local emergency room and admission to the hospital for a while, a cardiologist wasn’t able to offer much of an explanation. That’s when Kemp ended up at Keck Medicine of USC. The cardiology team discovered that Kemp’s heart was severely damaged and he’d experienced a silent heart attack. The damage was so bad that he would need a heart transplant and within the week after admission he was placed on the transplant list.

“It was like a curtain came down on my life that day I went to the emergency room. I couldn’t resume my normal life. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t do anything. All I could do was sit around and wait.”

With no cardiac history and a true dedication to nutrition and fitness, Kemp was beyond puzzled. The underlying cause of his heart attack was genetic. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, killing more than 600,000 people each year. Kemp was determined not to become part of that statistic.

“Through the whole journey, I worked on staying positive and optimistic because I had a goal. I had to get through this and get on with my life because I felt like I had more work to do.”

And then something miraculous happened. 30 days after being listed priority status 1a on the heart transplant list, Kemp Smeal got a new heart.

On March 19th, Kemp was admitted into Keck Medicine of USC. Dr. Mark Cunningham, MD, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery and Dr. Mark Barr, co-director of the Cardiothoracic Transplantation department performed his surgery.

“I’m so grateful for my life, plus, I get to continue living and do what I love to do in the world. I’m so grateful for my team of doctors and the entire medical and nursing staff that cared for me. I just can’t say enough about my care that I got at Keck Medicine of USC,” he says. “I just about get up on the rooftop and shout about that because they saved my life. Not only did they save my life, but the way they cared for me over the time I was there and my follow-care I have with Dr. Barr has just been phenomenal.”

Kemp discharged only eight days after surgery. Once he got home, he committed to exercising, taking medication and walking on the road to recovery. He came for eight heart biopsies with Dr. Barr, continues monthly lab work, and maintains a positive mindset. One thing that amplified is his gratitude and awareness of how much of a gift each day is. Because of that, he refuses to live his life anything short of it’s fullest potential. Kemp has received a second chance and is now embarking on a journey to continue inspiring the world, as he is working on sharing his inspirational story into a book.

That’s another example of The Keck Effect – giving patients a second chance at life to give back and inspire the world.

By Leonard Kim