Justin Wang is a young man whose love of food and cooking was spurred on by the traumatic health issues he has battled since childhood.
“My love for food comes from my love for creativity,” said Wang, 18, who received a heart transplant in 2018. “I think everyone loves food, whether it’s cooking it or just eating it. It’s one of life’s simple joys.”
Throughout his childhood, Wang dealt with chronic heart failure.
“It made me different from my peers and my classmates,” said Wang, who was regularly in and out of hospitals. His mother Yang Wei said he underwent many procedures and sometimes couldn’t go to school due to a simple cold.
Then in 2018, his heart failure took a drastic turn and he needed a heart transplant to save his life.
“That was an incredibly soul-shattering moment for me, just because it turned everything upside down,” Wang said.
Two weeks later, his parents told him the good news that they had a heart waiting for him. He and his family were incredibly grateful for the gift that saved his life, but following the surgery Justin experienced great pain. He found joy in watching cooking videos from content creators like Claire Saffitz and Rie McClenny and cooking quickly became a part of his recovery.
“At the time, going to the pots and pans, going to get ingredients from the fridge was exercise for myself,” Wang explained. “Cooking really helped me with post-transplant recovery.”
During this time, Wang was eligible to make a wish with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and he had the perfect idea.
“When you do have a transplant you do have a special diet. So I wished for a cookbook, a heart-healthy cookbook that I could use and bring to my own health and bring to my own recovery.”
The Make-A-Wish Foundation paired Wang with personal chef Victoria Lacuesta, who specializes in healthy eating.
“Asian cuisine is very salty,” she said, “and one of the things I tried to work with him and his mom on is using low-sodium ingredients and making things more flavorful.”
“She taught me that you can actually use less soy sauce and you can always incorporate veggies,” said Wang.
Heart-Healthy Chow Mein by Justin Wang
“Justin’s Hearty Recipes,” a cookbook with updated versions of Wang’s favorite dishes, including chow mein, was born out of the collaboration. The teen said he still uses the techniques he learned from Lacuesta to this day and that he derives great pleasure from seeing people eat his creations.
“When I see other people eating my food and enjoying it, it’s like, gosh, yes! It’s an amazing feeling.”
Today Wang works with Make-A-Wish to grant wishes to kids just like him.
“I am so grateful to my donor, every breath I take and every moment that I do is because of them and their generous gift.”