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Man battling congenital heart defects gets gift of a lifetime

Local nonprofit delivers early Christmas gift to man battling congenital heart disease
Local nonprofit delivers early Christmas gift to man battling congenital heart failure 02:51

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- As we think about gift-giving during the holidays, a local nonprofit, The Round of a Lifetime Foundation, is giving an incredible present to those battling congenital heart disease.

And in this week's Brotherly Love story, CBS3 highlighted a very lucky young man who received his Christmas wish a bit early.

For 28-year-old Zakki Blatt Strunk from Center City, golfing runs through his blood.

"I don't get nervous about it," Strunk said. "I just grab a club and try not to think too much."

It's his upbeat spirit and determination to keep making strides that makes Strunk a winner on and off the course. Strunk was born with congenital heart defects and was told by doctors he might not make it.

"No, I've never lost hope, I've never lost hope," Stephanie Blatt Middleton, Zakki's mom, said. "Because once you lose hope, you're done."

He survived 16 heart surgeries.

"During a very tricky time in his life where he had been on oxygen for two years, he was asking me if I could take him out to a golf course if he could play on a golf course," Stephanie Blatt Middleton said. 

So, the golf course became Strunk's second home. Doctors say it's the perfect medicine – it helps him with a range of motion, building stamina, grip strength and visual perception.

"Once I took him to golf, there was something magical," Stephanie Blatt Middleton said. "There was a sparkle in his eyes."

Make that a sparkle of self-esteem.

"I keep thinking positive and I keep going on and keep swinging away at the golf ball," Strunk said.

His passion for golf led him to The Round of a Lifetime Foundation, an organization that blesses patients like Strunk with congenital heart defects.

"The Round of a Lifetime was created in 2015, started sending boys and girls that have major cardiovascular issues to a world-class course to play with their family and friends," Michael Maciey, a senior advisor for the foundation, said. 

Not only is Maciey a senior advisor for ROAL, but he is also the father of Andrew Maciey. Andrew is the reason it's a personal mission for its founders. 

"We lost our dear cousin in 2010 who loved the game of golf," Jasen Maciey, of Round of a Lifetime, said. "His name was Andrew Maciey and this is why we do this."

Now in Andrew Maciey's honor, the organization helps patients with congenital heart disease. Each year the board of directors votes on who wins a luxury gift for playing a round on a golf course.

"We selected Zakki from just the unbelievable story that he has and his will and determination to stay healthy through the game of golf because that's what seems to drive him," Michael Maciey said. 

Weeks ago, Strunk's big gift came true – playing on the prestigious Pebble Beach golf course in northern California.

"I'm very thankful that they chose me," Strunk said. "So I can go to this trip and have a great time." 

The trip is a gift Strunk will forever cherish.  

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