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Mahwah Parents Turn Tragedy Into Mission For Heart Health

George and Debbie Kayal lost their son Marcus to sudden cardiac arrest in December 2019. Now they are channeling their grief into action.

Patch Staffverified patch staff - Mahwah Parents Turn Tragedy Into Mission For Heart Health

MAHWAH, NJ — The loss of a child is perhaps the most painful experience any parent can endure. But these Mahwah parents channeled their grief into raising awareness about the risks of heart disease or abnormalities, and the value of heart-health screenings.

Marcus Kayal, the 16-year-old son of George and Debbie Kayal, passed away in December 2019 of sudden cardiac death caused by an undiagnosed heart condition. He was an honor student and “stellar athlete,” who was in excellent health and physical condition, his parents said in a social media post.

Each year in the U.S., approximately 2,000 children and/or adolescents die as a result of sudden cardiac arrest, representing 3-5% of deaths in children ages 5 through 19, according to Nationwide Children’s.

Kayal’s parents refused to let their son be just another statistic, however.

Just recently, the parents founded the Marcus Kayal Legacy4Life charity through which funds were raised for the Marcus Kayal Memorial Scholarship at Mahwah High School, and for the newly established program Hearts4Marcus, which will provide preventive cardiac screenings for Mahwah freshmen.

Hearts4Marcus will offer optional, anonymous health screenings to more than 120 Mahwah High School students next week at the high school.

“The response to Hearts4Marcus was overwhelming,” Greg and Debbie Kayal said of the “sold-out” preventative screening event. “We hope to be able to offer it to more MHS students next year.”

Screenings were made possible through the success of Miles4Marcus, a fundraising challenge organized in May 2022 with the Mahwah Schools Foundation that saw more than 400 participants. The second Miles4Marcus event will be held May 20 at Continental Soldiers Park in Mahwah.

On Friday, Mahwah High School’s Action Through Athletics hosted the basketball game in honor of Kayal that was called Hoops4Marcus. Donations will be directed to the Marcus Kayal Memorial Scholarship and help fund Hearts4Marcus for years to come, George and Debbie Kayal said.

“Your continued support of Marcus Kayal Legacy4Life is so important to us as we honor the life of Marcus, but to our community on the whole as we work to prevent sudden cardiac arrest tragedies,” the parents said.

In appreciation of the Hoops4Marcus event and heart-health screening initiative started by the Kayal family, CBS2’s Chris Wragge made the first stop on his new series, “Class Act with Chris Wragge,” at his alma mater, Mahwah High School. Wragge, in the series, is celebrating schools in the area that are doing “class act” work, he said.

“I am excited to be here in Mahwah High School,” Wragge said Friday in a shared clip of his new show, “to bring you this story of an incredible young man, Marcus Kayal, who sadly passed in 2019. We will meet his incredible family and tell you his story and how it is leading to healthy heart initiatives.”

Kayal’s MHS soccer coach Ryan Humphreys spoke to Wragge in an interview about how great an opportunity it was to watch him play.

“I only got to see him on the field his freshman year,” Humphreys said of the #4 soccer player. “I think, no matter what, Marcus would have had soccer as a part of his live. He had always loved the game and would have been connected to the game.”

Schools Superintendent Michael DeTuro also spoke to Wragge about the Kayal and the Hoops4Marcus event.

“This (event) is just one of the reasons why Mahwah is so special — people coming together to organize a wonderful event to raise awareness for a great cause,” DeTuro told CBS2. “We are excited to bring the (Hearts4Marcus) program to Mahwah. Having a preventative measure in place is something that is imperative to make sure our student-athletes are healthy and safe.”

The Kayal family, in a statement sent to Patch, said the CBS2 broadcast was an “amazing opportunity” to bring awareness to heart-health and cardiac screenings.

“Our family is overwhelmed and grateful to Chris Wragge and CBS News for memorializing Marcus and sharing our Hoops4Marcus fundraiser and Hearts4Marcus event with the community,” the Kayals said.

Mahwah Parents Turn Tragedy Into Mission For Heart Health
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