You officially no longer have an excuse to skip your workout.
Meet Andrew “AJ” Jones an aspiring fitness model who doesn’t have a working heart — so he carries an artificial, battery-operated heart in his backpack, which allows him not only to live, but to maintain an intense workout regime and an inspiring lust for life, according to the Huffington Post.
“You could check everywhere you want, and you won’t feel a pulse, so I’m pretty much the best-looking zombie you’ll ever see,” Jones jokes in a new video on Great Big Story’s YouTube account.
The 26-year-old Farmington, Connecticut native is also the founder of Hearts at Large, an organization that raises awareness for people in need of heart transplants — and Jones is one of 120,000 people currently on the wait list, according to the Huffington Post.
Always athletic, Jones ran into difficulty in 2012 when he struggled to breathe during a run, according to the Daily Mail. Two years later, after coughing up blood, the bodybuilder was rushed to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a hereditary disease that “affects the heart’s efficiency to pump blood,” and left Jones unable to walk, dress himself, or function independently, according to the publication.
Though he still awaits his heart transplant four years later, Jones is so grateful to be alive — and to have the ability to maintain his fitness and his career — that he literally cries after workouts, according to the Daily Mail. But browse through Jones’ Instagram, and all you’ll see are photos of the model smiling as he pushes through with staggering determination — and basically kicks heart disease’s butt.
Every night, Jones bravely keeps himself alive by plugging himself into the wall outlet, he explains in the video, just like he’d plug his phone in, to make sure he has power overnight. Yes, he basically charges himself like a cell phone — well, by “himself,” Jones means his LVAD, or left ventricular assist device, which functions as a heart.
Jones says in the video that it took “baby steps” to get himself back to his current fitness level, but he was determined. “Once I’m able to find the right match for a heart transplant, I will no longer need my artificial heart,” Jones declares to the camera. He admits there was a moment when he was “upset” about having to function on an artificial heart, but he quickly came to a place of acceptance when he realized his situation is temporary.
The driven athlete also says he’s proud of his surgical scars, which he shows off in his many shirtless photos, because “scars are beautiful…they tell your story, and no one can take that away from you.”
With his organization Hearts at Large, he hopes to not only offer encouragement and financial assistance to others on the donor wait list, but to also work toward increasing the number of registered organ, eye, and tissue donors, according to the organization’s website. “This decision is made from the kindness of the heart and those are the hearts we need to save lives,” he says on the site.
In the meantime, he promotes his first passion on his own YouTube channel, which currently has more than 55,000 followers and features workout tutorials and motivational videos. It also features Jones’ “Starting Over” series, which chronicles his brave journey bouncing back from illness to full-body fitness.
Jones also has star power backing him. “I am so pumped this story is going big!!!” Jones wrote in a caption on Instagram, where he posted a screen shot of actor Mike Epps’ official Instagram account, in which Epps promoted — to his two million fans — an article written about Jones . “Let’s keep inspiring as many as we can!!”