NORTH LIBERTY, IN — Zac Mago was a standout on his high school basketball team, an honor student, member of National Honor Society, and on his Class Board. But it was his actions off the court that made him a true champion. Zac’s heart for serving others is what most remember him by today. The way he connected. The way he sought others out and invested in them. A year after his sudden death, his legacy lives on. Teresa, his mother, carries on the passion of her son in her everyday work with the Zac Mago Foundation.
This Foundation is one of the youngest of the foundations in our #WhyItMatters series. But already they’re making a huge impact. In one month’s time, over 200 youth participated in preventative heart screenings. All in hopes of saving a future heart from a tragedy like Zac’s. And they continue to set high goals as they Keep the Beat for Teens.
The First & Only SCA Symptom
Zac knew no stranger, turning each one he met into a friend. He could talk to anyone and often did. He always had a way of making someone feel like they were all that mattered. This is who Zac was.
Zac was known for helping people and being a champion for those less fortunate. He was passionate about connecting with and guiding those younger than him. A mentor of sorts. Among his many acts of service, his favorite was the Shop with a Player Program. The Program opened his eyes to the needs those in his community. And the kids looked up to Zac because of the impact he had through many interactions with them.
By his mother’s definition, Zac was the “picture of health”. Anticipating his upcoming senior year, Zac put his best into everything. He studied hard, trained hard, and played hard.
He kept up a healthy diet and would train even during the off-season. He was a stand out on the John Glen High School basketball team in Walkerton, IN, loving every aspect of basketball, and dedicated free time to perfecting his game.
“You look at those photos of him shooting the ball and running up and down the basketball court. That doesn’t look like a child that has a heart condition,” recalls Teresa. But Zac was far from that. He in fact had a hidden heart condition, called cardiomegaly (an enlarged heart). But his only symptom was his last. Zac passed away on July 5th, 2018. He had taken a nap that day and died in his sleep. His family would find him 18 minutes too late. CPR was performed but too much time had passed.
SCA Warning Signs
Looking back, Teresa says there were warning signs. Zac’s blood pressure changed in 2016 and became elevated, but not alarmingly high. It continued to be dismissed because of pain from an appendectomy in 2016 and surgery on his ankle in 2018. Zac had a heart screen in 2014 which came back normal. He went through a growth spurt that year into the next, growing another nine inches in eighteen months-time. There were never any symptoms that would lead to the thought of a potential SCA.
“We had no idea he should have been heart screened two years later,” says Teresa. According to Parent Heart Watch, youth should receive a preventative heart screening once every two years to detect any abnormalities that arise as kids are growing. Zac showed no heart abnormalities during the 2014 heart screening. Teresa urges parents that “one heart screen is not enough in teen years”.
Keeping the Beat for Teens
A little less than eight months after Zac’s tragic passing, Teresa was already on a mission. She set out the goal of “Keeping the beat for teens”. And saving future lives from a tragedy like Zac’s.
In March of 2019 she founded the Zac Mago Foundation. There, the Foundation aims to build a large-scale heart screening program for the community. The goal is to provide screenings for over 1,000 youth each year and advocate for screenings every two years for teens as a preventative check.
With the work the ZMF has has accomplished in a few month’s time, they are right on track.
This past May, the Foundation held five heart screening days. There, they screened over 200 youth. The enthusiasm to keep the momentum going is growing!
Teresa is also passionate about the placement of AED’s in public spaces. The Foundation will be donating its first AED to the North Liberty Community Center in Indiana. Her dreams are to get an AED placed in all nearby facilities.
Of her work, the motivation is the son who brought light into her life.
“Zac made a huge impact on everyone he met,” she says. “We are his messengers.”
Why It Matters
Zac’s story is an example of why awareness matters in this critical topic. Teens can experience rapid change throughout their high school years. This is why preventative heart screenings every two years during development matter. This helps detect a congenital heart condition that may not present itself until later teen years.
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