KENWOOD, Ohio – Zach Sence couldn’t finish playing his favorite sport this spring.
The Moeller High School (Cincinnati) junior, however, put that into perspective as he supported his varsity lacrosse team friends, whose season ended May 24 in the Division I regional final.
Sence has spent his entire life learning valuable lessons the hard way as he has been dealing with a congenital birth defect in his heart.
Sence is having open-heart surgery in June to repair a defect in his aorta called coarctation, in which the aorta narrows and makes it a lot more difficult for the heart to pump blood. Left untreated, it can be fatal.
It is the fourth heart operation he’s had in his young life. His mother, Beth, said if the operation goes well, he can play lacrosse again and, more importantly, may not need another operation for up to 15 years.
Until then, Zach, a junior varsity team member, cheered on his classmates as they cheered him on.
“It’s scary but I’m used to dealing with it,” Sence said. “I know the doctors are fantastic and I’m going to be OK.”
His mother said he had his first surgery at 18 months. The same doctor, Russel Hirsch at Children’s Hospital, has taken care of him since.
Zach took on lacrosse last year at the urging of friends, and immediately grew to love it. He played on Moeller’s top JV team as recently as April before complications from his weakening heart began to sap his energy and forced him to the sidelines.
“It kind of stinks that I can’t play but I love being part of the team and being one of the guys, being along for the ride,” he said. “I think they’re there for me more than I am for them. They’re my rock. They’re my brothers.”
Sean McGinnis, Moeller’s head varsity coach, said the team values Sence’s presence.
“When Zach walked up here tonight, he had that big old smile on his face,” McGinnis said after a playoff win May 21. “He just said ‘Coach, I just got 100 percent on my math final.’ We’re playing in a big game and he’s concerned about school. That’s just great.”
Sence, who also golfed for Moeller, won’t play on the course this fall as he recovers, but he enjoys the Moeller brotherhood and the lessons of a Catholic education.
“He just embodies what this school is all about,” McGinnis said. “Taking care of others, putting others first. He tries as hard as he can. He’s not the fastest guy, the most athletic guy. But he loves being around his teammates, his brothers.”
Sence was excited to be with the team against St. Xavier May 24 as the Crusaders played for a spot in the state semifinals. Moeller lost 11-10.
“It’s definitely helped me this year in getting through all this stuff,” Sence said. “My friends have always been there for me. I was always trying to find things to get my heart off my mind. I found that through service.”
McGinnis said Sence has taught those lessons to others.
“He was playing JV as a junior with a lot of sophomores and freshmen, and he took control as a leader,” McGinnis said. “He showed them what our culture is about, and that sports is more (than) about winning and losing. These guys rallied around him, but he showed them more about being what a teammate is. He’s so close with all our juniors and seniors and they care so much about him. They know he can’t play and they do everything they can to keep him going.”