For most women, awaiting the birth of a child is a wondrous time, full of excitement and joy. For Tracey Moran, pregnant with her son, Zachary MacKenzie, it was a time consumed by fervent prayer.
“I was six months pregnant when the doctors found out that he had a very sick heart,” she said. “The doctors told me that there was no hope, that he would die his first breath he took.”
They also told her that should her child be delivered alive, she would be allowed to take him home but with the understanding that he would die within a few days.
Instead, Zachary beat the odds. He turns 19 this month and graduated June 12 from Bonanza High School in a ceremony at the Orleans Arena, 4500 W. Tropicana Ave. His parents snapped shots of him in his cap and gown as he clutched his diploma.
The road to get there was not an easy one. MacKenzie was born with hypo plastic left heart syndrome, where the left side of the heart is critically underdeveloped. At five hours old, he underwent his first open heart surgery. The operation lasted eight hours. He emerged a tiny bundle clinging to life, bandaged and connected to tubes and wires.
After the surgery, “The doctors told us that there was no room for complications, but at 23 years old at the time, I did not understand what that meant,” Moran said.
She stayed by his side and prayed. In fact, Moran said she couldn’t have endured such obstacles if not for her faith. She had her family and members of her church, the International Church of Las Vegas, 8100 Westcliff Drive, praying for the newborn.
She credits those prayers with allowing her son to survive that surgery and the two others that followed. The last was when he was about 3. Even with those surgeries, the family was told he would likely not live past age 10.
Moran recalled checking on her son after he’d gone to bed and watching him as he slept. It was a task she would repeat throughout the years.
“I was always afraid I’d walk in there (to his bedroom) and not find him alive,” she said. “I’ve had to live with that fear all my life.”
When he was 5, Zachary was selected for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and granted a trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. He and his family — including his siblings, Meghan, now 22, Kailynn, almost 21, and Ryan, 14 — went.
He also met professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and sat on the sports figure’s lap for a photo opportunity in Huntington Beach, Calif.
As for MacKenzie, he said his medical condition left him with an understandably protective mother. He added she is “sometimes a little too protective,” such as when she wouldn’t let him play outside if it was hot. He had to sit out a lot of sports, such as football and hockey, and lamented being a spectator.
“At the time, I wanted to be like everybody else,” he said. “I couldn’t really understand why I couldn’t do things the other kids did.”
He was allowed to play baseball, and he enjoyed skateboarding. But if he pushed himself in either sport, he quickly learned that he tired easily.
His stepfather, Mike Moran, came into his life when MacKenzie was 9 and has been a steady, supportive presence ever since.
Each day, MacKenzie would take his medications: blood pressure medicine, medicine to help regulate his heart beat and blood thinners to prevent strokes.
By the time he was 13 or 14, MacKenzie said being “different” caused him to think a lot about his condition and contemplate why the heart condition had befallen him. He said it led him to have a strong faith in God.
“The way I think about it is this: Everything happens for a reason,” MacKenzie said. “So, if I’m here, then I’m here for a reason. God put me here for a reason. … Thinking about all the things I’ve been through in my life, just thinking about everything, I’m surprised I’m still alive. That in itself is a miracle. There’s no way around it. No way would I be here, be alive, if not for God.”
Knowing it was God’s plan did not make things any easier, he added. MacKenzie had an especially tough time after starting high school. It was hard to see others playing contact sports, working out or doing strenuous activities — activities he was prohibited from doing.
“I wanted to go out for sports, but those were things I couldn’t do,” he said.
He plans to enter the College of Southern Nevada and transfer to UNLV to earn his degree in criminal justice. He has his eye on entering the police academy when he’s 21.
Right now, he’s enjoying his graduation and remembering the celebration he had with his immediate family and his biological father, Mark MacKenzie, who flew in from Georgia to share the day with him.
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.