Last Updated on April 15, 2022.
A heart transplant recipient Joe Curran decided to defy the odds and win his high-powered and active life back.
This is his story.
The day when everything changed
At the age of twenty-five, my life completely changed.
I was leaving Tiger Schulmann’s children’s headquarters when I started to feel sick. I thought it was just a regular fever, but I ended up in hospital for 2 months.
Doctors were confused, trying to figure out why I had pneumonia for so long.
When I finally got out, I suffered from chronic fatigue and just generally ran down. So I went to a bunch of doctors, and they kept saying chronic fatigue over and over again.
Around the age of thirty-two, I went to donate blood. The nurse taking the blood said there was something up with my heart. There’s really something wrong.
As a result of that, I went to the hospital to get my heart checked. Unfortunately, the nurse was right; there was something wrong with my heart. The function of my heart was down to ten percent.
When I got diagnosed, the recommendation was an immediate heart transplant. The final doctor’s recommendation was to abandon my career in martial arts.
You need to take life easy, for this can kill you.
Live life on your own terms
I was really upset. You see people abusing their bodies their entire life, and I’ve done everything right to this point. I had a healthy lifestyle, I trained martial arts, and I had a healthy diet. It’s not fair.
But I learned an important lesson on the mat: life is like a fight.
You need to fight. With that mindset, I decided to fight for the life I wanted to live and not the life I was advised to live by different doctors. For me, there’s no purpose in living a life with restrictions.
Some people live to a hundred. Some people live to sixty. But the quality of life… You have to live the life the way you want to. You need to honor and cherish your life and live to the fullest. That means to be alive.
Working out, training and teaching are who I am, and I’m not giving that up, I remember telling this to myself all the time. Working out is my life. Training people, that’s my life. I wouldn’t let anything stop me.
The real challenge was finding a doctor who believed exercise and proper treatment was the answer. It took me six months to find a doctor who could actually listen to me and help me.
But life has a sick sense of humor.
Five years later, I was in a hospital bed again. This time, they found about ten pounds of fluid in my heart and lungs. My heart was in full failure. They put my name on the heart transplant list and told me to stay in the hospital for some time.
Once again, I was told to quit martial arts, and once again, I refused. Finally, I got out of the hospital and resumed my training. I was able to push it off for a few more years, but around the age of forty, I had fluid in my lungs again; therefore I went to the hospital.
It was time to get the heart transplant.
When I went back at that point, they could no longer just remove the fluid for my lungs, so I had to be attached to tubes. The next step was to do a surgery where they implant a device that wraps around the heart muscle to help it function and help it squeeze where my heart couldn’t squeeze on its own any longer. I was literally strapped to a bed for about three months.
An unexpected visit
One day while I was lying in my hospital bed, Tiger Schulmann came to see me.
The crazy thing about that was I had to keep my feet elevated for forty-eight hours because they could swell up, and the pain I felt in my entire body was insane. But my teacher came into the room, so I put my feet down. We had a 2-hour long conversation, at which time my legs kept swelling up more and more, but that poker face that I learned in martial arts I kept on.
The real significance of that story wasn’t that he came and spent that time with me, but the value of having a mentor that makes you realize you have more strength than you can ever know for yourself. Yet we focus on the weaknesses. With Tiger Schulmann in my corner, along with my brother and my family, I can overcome this; I can overcome everything.
I had to wait for two years to get a transplant. What I did in those two years was just like a fighter training for a match: I made it my full-time mission to stay alive. First, I started walking, building up to a slow jog into a run, and then, periodically, in between hospitals, I went to my headquarters to train.
I had to live the way I wanted to live, and being with the martial arts and the crew on the mat in my Tiger Schulmann’s family kept me alive.
At the age of forty-one, I got a phone call.
You have a heart.
I can’t tell you what goes on in one’s mind when you know after you’ve been through hell and back now, you’re going to be in surgery where your heart is removed. Then you get someone else’s heart; that heart is implanted in you…
The emotions that I was going through were pretty dramatic and insane. But, at that point, I would say the most amazing thing about that was such a feeling of peace. If I was to go, I would be at peace because I gave it all I got, so I went. I stayed in the hospital that night, just called my family and said I love you guys.
It was time to just let go and believe.
Luckily, the whole procedure was a big success, and after two weeks in the hospital, I was released.
The first thing I wanted to do was to clean my head so I went for a walk near Hudson river. I remember just walking across the street thinking to myself, what’s next? What are you going to do now?
I looked to my left at that moment, and I saw a person with paraplegia. I just thought to myself:
You have no idea how lucky you are.
You can move your arms; you can move your legs. You still have life in you. That guy, that’s a hero. He’s out here instead of sitting in his house feeling bad for himself.
I made a promise.
I was going to push myself and train harder than ever before.
No excuse mentality
I believe I would have made it through this, but my mentality would have been different. I would probably have turned life down. I would have taken things a lot easier.
The more challenging things are, the tougher you have to be—and the bigger the rewards.
That’s the mentality of no excuse.
Everything that became second nature to me through the training and the teaching at Tiger Schulmann’s martial arts I implemented in my life and just refused to quit.
There is so much more to Tiger Schulmann’s martial arts than punches and kicks. It is about the human potential you have inside yourself, and many people live their entire lives never knowing the potential they had…
When you train, you learn about yourself, and you learn about things in life.
Martial arts are the foundation that gets you more confident, and when you’re confident, you go for things in life. You could have all the knowledge in the world, but if you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t go for things.
Life is a fight, and when you go for it, get knocked down, and get back up, you learn and win the fight. It builds your mind; it builds your body; it builds your spirit.
With that, you are limitless.
With that, you can train for life and never stop growing.
To me, martial arts it’s not a place you go to. You go to the gym, but martial arts…
Martial arts is a way of life.