It was just like any other daily run for Andrew Jones. He put one foot in front of the other. He breathed in. He breathed out. He made it to the mailbox, but he knew something wasn't right.

"It kind of felt like my lungs had turned into sponges. Like I was breathing through a sponge."

That bizarre feeling first happened in 2012. And it would change his life forever.


Andrew Jones. Image via ajFitness/YouTube.

Labored breathing would alarm anyone, but for Andrew, an avid runner and fitness hound, it was particularly worrisome.

After his run, he called his doctor and requested to see someone right away. Two specialists and 24 hours of heart monitoring later, Andrew was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy.

"I didn't really know much about what it meant," Andrew said. "I was still very strong, getting my workouts in at the gym like normal, just being young and feeling invincible."

Andrew at his gym. Photo courtesy of Andrew Jones.

So after that one troubling run, Andrew kept working out. But his symptoms started getting worse.

Andrew, now 26, has loved the gym since college. He found an unexpected home there and noticed that regular workouts kept him focused and disciplined. "The best way to explain it is that being active is in my blood," he said. 

But soon his fatigue and shortness of breath turned into pain and weakness that left him, at times, unable to stand up for more than 10 minutes.

Eventually, Andrew suffered heart failure. He was coughing up blood and had to be rushed to the hospital. There, doctors told him that if he didn't get a heart transplant soon, he could die.

Andrew in the hospital, recording his journey back to health. Image via ajFitness/YouTube.

That was two years ago. 

He is still awaiting a heart transplant and relies on an artificial heart and a pacemaker to keep him alive.

While he waits, Andrew is doing something few people awaiting a transplant would do. He has become a professional fitness model.

As you can see, Andrew doesn't hide from his scars. Nor does he hide from the tubes coming in and out of his body that operate his artificial heart.

Instead, he wants those things to inspire others. He wants people to know that whatever your goals are, you shouldn't let anything, including a near-death experience, stand in your way.

Everywhere Andrew goes, he carries a backpack. Inside it is the machine pumping blood through his veins and keeping him alive. The literal weight on his shoulders is a constant reminder of how close he came to losing everything.

"Tomorrow's not guaranteed for any of us," Andrew said. "For someone in my situation, it’s guaranteed a lot less. ... Two and a half, three years ago? I probably would've taken waking up in the morning for granted."

Now, he says, he's grateful for every single morning he gets.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Jones.

Andrew knows that everyone has goals. Whether it's starting a business, paying off bills, or writing a book.

"If there’s something that’s on your mind 24/7 that you can’t stop thinking about, you need to act on it," he said.

Andrew uses his body and his mind to inspire people all over the world. On his Instagram, he spreads messages of hope and acceptance, calling on people everywhere to embrace the hand they were dealt and push forward. 

"I want people to leave with a little more motivation than they came in with," Andrew said.

In all of his photos, scars and medical equipment are on proud display.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Jones.

They remind people that no matter what you're up against, you can achieve incredible things. 

Andrew has also started a foundation called Hearts at Large, which raises awareness for organ donation and collects the stories of people whose lives have been saved by it. 

For Andrew, paying it forward is not just a thing he occasionally does, it’s a mantra for his life. 

True
Firefox

This slideshow shows how you can protect your information.

View Slideshow
Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash (left), Kimberly Zapata (right)

Picking a psychiatrist is a precarious situation, one I know all too well. I have bipolar disorder, depressive disorder and anxiety disorder. I have been in and out of therapy for nearly 20 years. And while I have left doctors for a wide variety of reasons—I've moved, I felt better and "been better," I've given up on pharmacology and stopped taking meds—I've only had to fire one.

The reason? She was judgemental and disrespectful. In her office, I wasn't seen, heard or understood.

To help you understand the gravity of the situation, I should give you some context. In the spring of 2017, I was doing well and feeling good, at least for the most part. My family was healthy. I was happy, and life was more or less normal, so I stopped seeing my psychiatrist. I decided I didn't need my meds.

But by the summer, my mood was shifting. I was cycling (which occurs when bipolar patients vacillate between periods of mania and depression) and when I suffered a miscarriage that fall, I plunged into a deep depressive episode—one I knew I couldn't pull myself out of.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo from Dole
True

As you sit down to eat your breakfast in the morning or grab an afternoon snack, take a minute to consider your food, how it was made, and how it got to your plate.

The fruit on your plate were grown and picked on farms, then processed, packaged and sent to the grocery store where you bought them.

Sounds simple, right?

The truth is, that process is anything but simple and at every step in the journey to your plate, harm can be caused to the people who grow it, the communities that need it, and the planet we all call home.

For example, thousands of kids live in food deserts and areas where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited. Around the world, one in three children suffer from some form of malnutrition, and yet, up to 40% of food in the United States is never eaten.

Keep Reading Show less

I saw this poster today and I was going to just let it go, but then I kept feeling tugged to say something.

Melanie Cholish/Facebook

While this poster is great to bring attention to the issue of child trafficking, it is a "shocking" picture of a young girl tied up. It has that dark gritty feeling. I picture her in a basement tied to a dripping pipe.

While that sounds awful, it's important to know that trafficking children in the US is not all of that. I can't say it never is—I don't know. What I do know is most young trafficked children aren't sitting in a basement tied up. They have families, and someone—usually in their family—is trafficking them.

Keep Reading Show less
via Tania / Twitter

Therapy animals have become a controversial issue of recent, even though they've helped over 500,000 people overcome psychological and physical issues that have made it difficult to perform everyday tasks.

It's because countless people have tried to pass off their pets as service animals, making it hard for legitimate, trained animals to gain acceptance in public.

So when people hear about emotional support llamas, they're met with understandable cynicism. However, studies show they are great at helping children with autism spectrum disorder, and they are routinely used to cheer up people residents in retirement homes.

Keep Reading Show less