Staying upbeat in trying circumstances

Ezekiel "Zeke" Kendall is, by most measures, a nice guy. He's friendly, upbeat and enjoys spending time with his family.

Still, you wouldn't be wrong if you called him heartless.

The Costa Mesa 19-year-old — who's awaiting the first of what could be multiple heart transplants throughout his life — had his own failing ticker removed and replaced with a SynCardia artificial device Dec. 5.

"It's weird to think, man, I have a completely synthetic metal and plastic device in my body," he said. "It's just a phenomenal, phenomenal device."

In early November, Kendall was diagnosed with congestive heart failure after he had begun to feel "sick and out of it."

His heart developed "a huge clot in one chamber, then another," said his dad, Dusty Kendall. "His heart was swelled way beyond capacity."

Every move, Zeke Kendall said, risked a sudden drop in blood pressure.

After he was hooked up to the SynCardia heart, he was able to move around, and "it's much nicer now," he said.

But the artificial device is "just a bridge to a donor heart," Dusty Kendall said.

Hence the waiting.

Zeke Kendall has been at UCLA Medical Center's intensive care unit for a couple months.

Ever positive, he said that because he was going to school at Orange Coast College when he got sick, "I've been saying this is probably the best time to happen. I was in a transitional phase."

He said his professors have been "really understanding," and he's gotten letters of support from his coworkers at the Metro Pointe Barnes and Noble.

In his spare time he enjoys painting and gluing models for tabletop games, Zeke Kendall said. In the future he'd like to do 3-D graphic design.

A typical day at the hospital involves a lot of sitting around on the computer, with a couple of walks and one meal a day in the hospital's cafeteria, Zeke Kendall said.

"Just sort of a system we've got down," he said. "A simple system."

One day, though, that system was shaken up by a surprise visit.

He said a representative from the hospital's Child Life services asked him if he wanted to meet "the guy from 'The Hangover,'" actor Zach Galifianakis.

"My friends were like, 'You literally met my hero,'" Zeke Kendall said. "That was cool."

Nevertheless, life in the ICU can be wearing.

"It's been — the hospital's been phenomenal, they're a great group of people," Dusty Kendall said. "It's just trying to cope with being in a hospital 24/7."

Furthermore, a heart transplant, plus up to $1,500 worth of anti-rejection medication each month for the rest of Kendall's life, is an expensive prospect.

"A lot of people don't realize this, but donor hearts only last about 15 years," Dusty Kendall said. "We're trying to get him to where it'll be a reasonable burden financially."

With the help of the Bloomington, Ind.-based Children's Organ Transplant Assn., Zeke Kendall's family hopes to raise about $150,000 to cover costs.

So far, they've raised $12,399, said Zeke Kendall's sister, Amber Weiser. She said the family plans to hold a silent auction at the Grove in Los Angeles on Feb. 22.

Zeke Kendall said he's not worried about the future.

"I have my moments where it's like, 'Oh no,'" he said. "My general outlook is there's no real point in sitting around and panicking and dwelling on things that could be."

For now, he said, he's mostly looking forward to getting out of the hospital and celebrating the holidays.

"We didn't celebrate anything," he said. "I've told my family we'll whip it all together at a coming home party."

For more information about how to donate to Zeke Kendall's heart transplant funds, go to

Twitter: @jillcowan

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