Zac Esso was a regular teenage boy. He played cricket, football, rugby, soccer, ran cross country, and track & field. He was school house captain, played music and went to the state honours ensemble program. Late one night, his Mum called the Home Doctor Service to treat a bout of tonsillitis for Zac. As he was leaving, the Doctor queried Zac’s heart murmur – a question that, after a series of follow up appointments, very much saved his life.
Three months later, Zac was formally diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body. In the same month, he had a cardiac defibrillator implanted under his skin, and his first cardiac arrest during a treadmill stress test next to a cardiologist.
“It was exactly like in the movies where there was a big black hole with all my friends’ faces whizzing past, slowly getting smaller and smaller. It got to a small dot before it stopped and then my whole world sucked back into it. And that was me waking up and breathing again,” Zac recalls.
Over the coming months, Zac had four more cardiac arrests, one where he felt his defib go off without passing out; “it was very painful, and makes you realise that if you didn’t have the defib at that moment, you wouldn’t be here today.”
Zac’s health continued to decline so rapidly that he was put on the list for a heart transplant less than one year after diagnosis.
Zac’s Mum, Dionne, remembers the exact moment he decided to ride for transplant research, “prior to his transplant, he was in a very dark place, the doctor suggested he make some short- and long-term goals for his mental health. We were sitting waiting for an appointment at the hospital and saw a poster promoting the Cycle of Giving. He set that as a long-term goal, which at the time just seemed ridiculous.
“But once he got the heart, it was on for young and old. He was chomping at the bit to get to the rehab gym. He had decided quite a bit earlier that he was going to give back and fundraise.”
Zac is in training for the Tour de Brisbane 60km course, which includes a lap of Mt Coot-tha, as his first long-term goal post heart transplant.