LUBBOCK, Texas – It’s been seven months since Monterey High School freshman Zaidyn Ward collapsed on the football field after a game and his heart stopped. He was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart problem called left main coronary artery stenosis. Through it all, Zaidyn said he’s extremely thankful to still be alive.

“Don’t take life for granted because any day you can leave,” Zaidyn said.

In November 2022, Zaidyn had a successful open-heart surgery at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. He currently has an implantable defibrillator on his left side called a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator (S-ICD). According to the Cleveland Clinic, the device can help prevent sudden cardiac death in people with abnormally fast heart rhythms. 

Rob Otey is the founder of the Virginia-based 39 Hearts Foundation. Recently, he reached out to Zaidyn’s family to host a heart walk for him in Lubbock. 

“When I saw the picture of him laying in a hospital bed with the wires and the tubes, I got chills going through my body because I did not anticipate seeing the result that he’s still here,” Otey said. “I said, I need to find his family, I need to find him, I just want to talk to him.”

Otey created the nonprofit organization for his wife’s late cousin, Darius, who back in 2018 also collapsed on the football field, and died from an aortic dissection. Since the tragedy, Otey decided to honor his memory by educating others about heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one person dies every 34 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease.

“It’s a silent killer,” Otey said. “It’s something that completely comes unexpectedly for the most part, out of nowhere, and ultimately takes lives. “With this awareness piece, hopefully, more and more student-athletes will hear that they can’t necessarily always play through the pain, because it could be life or death.”

After talking with Zaidyn’s family, the Heart Walk was a go. The event is set for 12:00 p.m. on May 6 at Monterey High School (3211 47th Street). 

Zaidyn’s grandmother, Judy Combs, said she’s thrilled that Dr. Travis Batts will be there to teach the community about heart health and how to help in an emergency. 

“We’re now trying to make the community here in Lubbock aware of what could happen and educate you on how to treat these athletes that have the same problems,” Combs said.

There are 1,600 miles between Otey’s hometown of Locust Grove, VA and Monterey High School in the Hub City. Odey said he will not let distance get in the way of his mission to help save lives nationwide.

“We want to raise awareness for heart disease, and really put a smile on this young man’s face and make it as special of a day as possible,” Otey said. “Nobody expects to have your heart stop and then your whole life change before your eyes, so hopefully we can make an impact and change his life and change his family’s life.”

The Heart Walk will also have local food trucks and activities for all ages. 

If you would like to register for the walk, click here. To donate, click here. All proceeds will go toward Zaidyn’s ongoing medical expenses.

To learn more about the 39 Hearts Foundation, click here.