A Change of Heart—Literally

How mindfulness helped Minds, Inc. founder, Jesse Torrence, recover from a heart transplant.

Photograph by Oana Cheta.

At age 31, Jesse Torrence’s heart wasn’t strong enough to beat on its own. Admitted to a Washington, DC hospital, he was dependent on a bypass machine to keep him alive. Four tubes inserted in his abdomen circulated blood and oxygen throughout his body while he waited for a transplant. One day, he felt strong enough to dance with his partner, Oana Cheta, who loves to dance, so he seized the opportunity. It was a remarkable moment for the young couple because they knew: He might not have long to live. (See the couple dancing in the video below, which Torrence made for his family. Dancing begins at 13 minutes, 40 seconds.)

After graduating with a masters degree in Public Administration in International Development from Harvard, Torrence became the director of Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme), in January 2011, helping to raise funds and organize retreats where teens learn to meditate. But in the spring of that year, Torrence was diagnosed with pneumonia. Doctors quickly realized it was something far more serious than a lung infection: giant cell myocarditis, a type of inflammation of the heart. It has a very low survival rate.

The doctors put Torrence in a medically induced coma, where he remained for six weeks and underwent two operations. During one of the operations he had a stroke. His family and friends gathered at his bedside, though they couldn’t touch him due to the risk of blood clotting through his swollen arms and legs—any movement in those clots might have killed him. After he woke up from the coma and spent four months recovering in the hospital, with his new heart, Torrence suffered from an infection.

Torrence was at the end of his rope. He says his sense of self was stripped away. In that moment of deep pain and fear, he struggled desperately for a way to be thankful for his life. He did it with the help of his partner, Cheta, who had been at his side throughout. “I was thinking, if this woman stayed with me through all of this—and danced with me while I was hooked to a machine—what more did I need?” Torrence proposed to her and they were married the following year.

More about Minds., Inc

Torrence first began Minds, Inc., as a sister organization to Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme), taking the mindfulness retreat model to schools in the Washington, DC-area.

Minds, Inc., is now serving more than 20 schools, almost 3,000 kids, 500 teachers, and about 600 parents—all with no advertising or marketing. All publicity is word of mouth, which builds longer-term sustainability into the model, says Torrence. “We’re empowering the people involved by asking them to help us get the word out. They open doors.”

Qualified mindfulness instructors are walking through those doors. “We’re very selective about who we put in the classroom, our teaching core. They’ve trained and practiced for years. They bring a tremendous amount of expertise.”

This web extra provides additional information related to an article titled, “A Change of Heart,” which appeared in the August 2014 issue of Mindful magazine.

Now completely recovered, Torrence is grateful for the support of family, friends, medical professionals, and for the internal resources that his mindfulness practice provided.