Wyatt Chinn was at the driving range at Jackson Park Golf Course in Seattle in May 2013 with his uncle when in mid-swing, he felt a pain in his back. He didn’t know what was happening and assumed it was a muscle cramp.
“I actually thought I pulled a muscle. I thought, ‘If I just sit down or find a comfortable position, it’ll go away,’ ” Chinn said.
But the pain didn’t go away, and that’s when Chinn knew something might be wrong. Chinn’s uncle rushed him to UW Medical Center, where they found out that he had torn an artery in his heart.
Chinn underwent immediate open-heart surgery to repair the artery. The tear was caused by Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissues. It affects the long bones in the body, causing them to stretch — resulting in afflicted people being of above average height. Problems in the eyes, heart and lungs can arise when the tissues around them are not being supported properly.
When he was a child, Chinn was diagnosed with the syndrome. He was told a torn artery was a possibility, but at the age of 25, Chinn did not see it happening at such a young age.
“That’s something that they told me that was a potential risk when I was diagnosed, but I thought I’d be way older,” Chinn said.
The surgery took six hours, and complications kept Chinn in the hospital for several weeks.
“In some ways, I’m blessed that it happened at this age when I’m younger so they have a better chance of fixing it,” Chinn said.
Chinn said he has always been involved in his church, Westgate Chapel in Edmonds, Wash. Before his surgery, he was one of the Sunday greeters, helped with the college group ministry and helped with church events. Every week he would go with the college ministry group to the Seattle Pier Waterfront to feed the homeless.
“I want to help and be a part of church ministry,” Chinn said.
He especially enjoyed working with the young adults in his church. He said his love for young adults is what led him to SPU. Chinn was offered a position at SPU as a Sodexo employee two years ago.
He first started working at Academic Perks in the Student Union Building then moved around to Corner Store and Subway. Now he is the greeter and cashier in Gwinn Commons.
“I really like the atmosphere of working with students and having the constant communication with the students. I feel like I connect with them better,” Chinn said.
Before the surgery, friends and co-workers said that Chinn was pretty calm and relaxed. He was just a funny, friendly guy. Janelle Johnson, the Subway manager, became friends with Chinn about two years ago when he started working at Subway. Johnson found herself drawn to Chinn’s personality.
“He’s really goofy and tries to make people laugh. But then he also has a more serious side,” Johnson said.
After the surgery, things changed for Chinn. Not just his daily activities and the way he spends his time, but his friends also noticed a change in his personality.
“He was a lot different. He was always worried and wanted to make sure everything was fine,” Johnson said.
Johnson saw Chinn struggling to get back his personality after his surgery.
“It was like he was reliving it every day,” Johnson said.
Chinn must undergo physical therapy a couple times a week. It’s important that Chinn keeps his blood pressure low, so he must stay calm and try to keep stress at a minimum. Because of this, Chinn had to cut down some of his activities he participates in at his church.
Chinn is working to slowly move past his incident. He finds comfort in a new outlook on his faith and relationships
“People will soon realize that time is precious, and it’s not just something you take and use everyday as things to get done,” Chinn said.
He believes that the days should be filled with building relationships with God, the church and people.
Recently, Johnson noticed Chinn’s new outlook on life.
“He’s living more day to day. It seems like that’s because he’s seen the scary part of what can happen,” Johnson said.
Chinn also worked with senior Danae Ellis at Subway earlier in 2013. Ellis was drawn to Chinn’s calm and understanding personality. She became closer to Chinn after the surgery when she was diagnosed with a heart condition. They were able to connect and relate to one another on a different level.
“You usually don’t have that kind of connection with co-workers,” Ellis said.
Ellis said she has found comfort in the help that she has received from Chinn.
“Just to have someone to talk about it with is really helpful and cool,” Ellis said.
Ellis said Chinn asked her questions that no one else had.
“Not very many people asked me how I felt about having a heart condition, and he wanted to know how I felt ,and he prayed for me. Not a lot of people would do that,” Ellis said.
With his new perspective on life, Chinn doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to serve God in any way he can.
“I want to find ways to express the gifts I’ve been given,” Chinn said.