Perspective and empathy gleaned from basketball and surgery

Dreams of becoming a professional basketball player were lost when Batkhuu Dashnyam, second year student at South Puget Sound Community College, was diagnosed with a heart condition at age 15. He then underwent surgery, and in the process learned what it means to step into someone else’s shoes.Born in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, Dashnyam aspired to play professional basketball. “Starting in ninth grade I felt different, I was thinking about getting serious and going pro if I could,” said Dashnyam.

At the time a couple of local teams already showed interest in him.

“I talked some recruiters and they kind of liked my game,” he said.

That summer Dashnyam was diagnosed with congenital (inborn) heart disease. “Yeah, I had to have a surgery. And it just changed everything. After the surgery the doctors said, “You cannot play,”’ said Dashnyam.

Eventually, his heart became strong enough that he could play basketball again, but not at the level he always wanted.

The surgery not only changed his career plans it also changed his perspectives on life.

“It changed a lot about who I am. It matured me. I learned this principle that I apply to everything now because of it,” he said.

That principle Dashnyam learned was empathy. Previous to his diagnosis, when it came to basketball, Dashnyam’s competitive nature would show up and he would become very tough on his teammates.

“Before the surgery I was always the go-to guy on my teams. I would tell my teammates “come on” if they mess up, get tough on them. I had to. I was mad. I never noticed that when I was doing it. I got into it,” he said.

In his senior year in high school Dashnyam participated in the foreign exchange student program and attended to River Ridge High school. There he played basketball but quickly realized what it meant not to be the go-to guy.

“Man, I wasn’t even in the top five guys. I was probably sixth or seventh guy. It was interesting,” he said.

The new experience and perspective of not being on top opened Dashnyam’s eyes. “My game was suffering and my teammates were tough on me. I was tough on myself too. But it wasn’t the point,” said Dashnyam.

This was his life changing experience with empathy.

“It felt like my soul jumped out of my body and looked at [what was] going on from a third person perspective. And I realized that how mean and cruel I was to my earlier teammates,” said Dashnyam.

He was troubled by the fact that it took such a drastic measure to get the idea of empathy into his head.

“I hated myself afterwards because an actual experience is what it took me to understand empathy,” said Dashnyam.

He decided to figure out how to spread the knowledge about empathy, so that other people could learn to experience it without having to go through a traumatic experience first.

“I know if you go around [SPSCC] and ask students what is empathy people will come up with something. But I don’t want it to be just an empty word because it was to me before my surgery. I always helped those who needed help but never understood what it meant to be like them,” said Dashnyam.

Recently, he decided to make a short film called Perspective. The purpose of the film is to illustrate what it is like to be a disabled person in a wheelchair on campus.

“I am going to spend a week in a wheelchair on campus and film my experience. I want to zoom in, dig deep and really experience what it feels like to be a disabled person,” said Dashnyam.

“At the end of the day I can just jump back up and run and play basketball whenever, but those folks can’t. They have to live like that. The least I can do is to inform the rest of the students,” said Dashnyam.