It’s been said that no matter how difficult you think your circumstances are, there’s always someone worse off than you. Sean Magee, 19, a Copper Canyon resident, felt that way about his best friend, 19 year-old Jared Stongryn, who died last year after a long battle with a congenital heart condition.
Jared, who lived in Cleburne, Texas, met Sean about 10 years ago at Camp John Marc in Meridian, Texas, about 85 miles southwest of Dallas. The year-round camp is a therapeutic facility for Texas-area children with chronic illnesses and major physical disabilities, including cancer and heart disease. Sean, born with aortic stenosis, a condition which restricts blood flow from the heart because the aortic valve doesn’t fully open, was forced to undergo an angioplasty operation at the age of 2 months.
A former Flower Mound resident and 2013 graduate of Guyer High School in Denton, Sean and his parents, Dave and Barbara Magee, have become well-versed in the medical technology concerning issues of the heart. When Sean was 3 years old he had open heart surgery that included a valve being replaced with a human cadaver valve that had been cryogenically preserved. At the age of 10 he had surgery again, this time he received a bovine valve. At the tender age of 19, he has had two heart surgeries and four angioplasties.
During angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure, a cardiologist feeds a deflated balloon or other device on a catheter from the femoral artery up through blood vessels until they reach the site of blockage in the heart. X-ray imaging is used to guide the catheter threading. At the blockage, the balloon is inflated to open the artery, allowing blood to flow. A stent is often placed at the site of blockage to permanently open the artery.
Sean’s condition meant that his participation in contact sports was severely limited. However, aerobic exercises were not only good for him, but highly recommended. “My doctor said I should do a lot of cardio,” he said. “Also, I can eat more or less what I like as long as it doesn’t have tons of fats in it that would cause my heart to be unhealthy,” he added.
Sean said he occasionally deals with Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVC), which are often referred to as “skipped beats” or “palpitations” in the chest. He has had procedures at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and Ann Arbor Hospital in Michigan. When he had his second heart surgery, seven years after the first, he was told it would last about 5 to 6 years. Well, it’s nine years later and he’s grateful that the doctors were wrong.
When Sean and Jared met they were 8 years old and they soon became best buddies. Although their medical challenges were similar, Jared’s were more severe, requiring seven heart surgeries during his short lifetime. About a year ago, Jared decided that he wanted to do something to help young people who are even less fortunate than he was.
He decided to grow his hair and donate it to an organization known as Locks of Love, a public non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under age 18, suffering from long-term medical issues. Sadly, Jared died suddenly, before he was able to accomplish his goal. It was then that Sean decided he would fulfill his friend’s wishes by growing his hair for a subsequent donation.
He spoke frankly about the challenge of doing something that was perceived by others as unusual. “I had to take a lot of crap in order to achieve this goal because people would judge me by my appearance, not knowing what I was aiming for. People’s perceptions were difficult, but, I feel like I accomplished my goal and I look at life and I can say that, whenever you feel bad about your medical issues you don’t have to go far to see others that are in greater need,” he said with firm conviction in his voice.
“Originally, I was just going to trim my hair and donate it, while I continued to grow more. But, three weeks ago I had my hair cut in Stillwater, Oklahoma at the LaRitz Salon, where my aunt works, and we decided at that time that I was ready to donate my hair to the cause in honor of my friend Jared,” he said proudly.
I was impressed with Sean for several reasons, not the least of which was that he has a relaxed sense of humor and a maturity beyond his years. Speaking with him for more than an hour, it was impossible to think of him as a young man with a disability. That’s because he doesn’t let it define him. He’s wise enough to recognize that we all have obstacles in our lives, some more complicated than others.
Dwelling on the advantages we don’t have will only keep us from enjoying the advantages we have. Sean plans on going to technical school to learn about cars, a favorite subject of his. With such an uplifting, positive attitude, I feel certain that he could excel at any goal he sets for himself. He’s already proven that he has the courage to stand up for what he believes in. Moreover, his loyalty to the memory of his buddy says he’s a man of principle. I’m sure Jared was very proud to have called him his friend.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor. In addition, Bob has 7 published books that include “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death” and “Out of Sight,” all of which can be found on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores.