With the support of his doctors, Hunkin began to change his eating habits and to walk. He started with ten minutes a day, up and down an alley near his house.
"It's like an addiction when you lose weight. The first ten pounds come off, before I knew it I'm down 30-40 lbs," said Hunkin. "We had a new heart surgeon at UCSF, [Georg Wieselthaler]. He said, 'You know, I'm really happy you're losing the weight. You lose 20 more pounds and I'll transplant you.'"
Wieselthaler, the program director for cardiac transplantation at UCSF Medical Center, said that Hunkin's positive reaction to the VAD pump meant he was able to become more and more active, which helped him lose the weight.
"All of sudden you have exercise capabilities you didn't have before. To me that's an essential part of the whole story," said Wieselthaler. "Without that pump, he never would have been to do that."
After losing over 100 lbs to reach a weight of approximately 250, Hunkin was added to the transplant list and received a new heart on Aug. 8, 2012.
"I'll never forget that day. 'They said, 'We're putting you on the list,'" recalled Hunkin. "I dropped the phone."
After his surgery, Hunkin recovered quickly and was even able to walk a few steps around his room the day after his surgery.
Wieselthaler said he believes that with the new heart and a carefully regulated drug regimen, Hunkin has an excellent prognosis.
"We learned a lot over the last 30-40 years with drugs that can help suppress rejection of certain organs," said Wieselthaler. "We tailor immune suppressant medication for each patient. By doing so, we have excellent long term results."
In the six months since his operation, Hunkin has kept the weight off by walking and doing small toning exercises multiple times per week.
Hunkin said it wasn't until a few days after the surgery that he realized he had a really good chance at a long and healthy future.
"I'm just chilling in my room and it was just silent, and all I could hear was my heartbeat," said Hunkin. "I started crying."