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St John's College News

24 January 2017

 

 

Brandon MacKenzie: overcoming the odds

Brandon MacKenzie did amazingly in his 2016 Matric final exams. He came in the top 5% in six subjects and in the top 1% in two subjects. His overall average was 91% and he also achieved 9 distinctions inclusive of his AP subjects.

Distinctions in Matric are widely celebrated as they demonstrate hard work, perseverance and intelligence. The hustle and bustle of the modern, competitive world sometimes means life can be taken for granted. However, that is certainly not the case Brandon.

Brandon has overcome massive challenges and life scares to become an inspiration to his peers, family and community. From operating theatres around the world to the very top of the academic ladder, Brandon proves that with belief, faith, hard work and perseverance, miracles are possible.

Brandon joined St John’s College in Grade 7 in 2011. He is one of the top achievers in the current Matric class at St John’s College. Brandon was diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White syndrome (WPW) and probable familial long QT Syndrome. Both conditions fall under Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndromes. The WPW in Brandon’s case entails what is known as an accessory pathway in his heart, which affects the pacing of his heart and predisposes him to dangerous arrhythmias. Despite the immense challenges and fear for his wellbeing, he has overcome life’s adversities with honour and dignity, and then some.

In the third term of his Grade 7 year at St John’s prep, Brandon started rowing. Shortly thereafter he started blacking out. “When he collapsed off the bench whilst seated in chapel and it took some time for him to be revived, we really panicked. We ended up seeing a team of cardiologists and an ECG showed up his WPW. They suggested he stop all sport immediately,” says his mother, Chantal MacKenzie.

“We were advised that a cardiac ablation procedure had 95% chance of curing his condition, so he had his first one in April 2012 at Sunninghill hospital. The procedure lasted seven hours and was not successful. He had another eight-hour attempt in September 2012 done at Milpark, which was also not successful, and a third one in December 2012, also eight hours, and that time there were complications and he spent longer than usual in ICU. He was then referred to Dr Packer at Mayo Clinic in the US. They were nervous to attempt a fourth procedure and instead they implanted a cardiac monitor and affirmed that he should refrain from all sport.”

Brandon was obviously devastated by the diagnosis, and his body took a beating from all the procedures. He had always been a keen swimmer and distance athlete, and had developed a love and natural talent for rowing. Having to give up sport and sit under the tree during physical education lessons at school nearly broke his spirit, but he is a driven person and so one day he said if he could not control his health, he could control his mind.

He took up double bass and threw his passion into music. He became incredibly focused on his academics and set high goals for himself. In his Grade 9 year, when he had three heart operations, he did not miss a single exam and in ICU he would study mathematics and science. In fact, he was so driven that, despite doctors’ orders, he resumed his beloved rowing in grade 10 and 11 and his Eight won a gold medal at SA Champs.

Brandon is planning to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pretoria, with French as an additional subject. He hopes to do his post-graduate studies in French at the Écolepolytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

He is a very diverse student. A highlight of his time at St John’s was participating in the Accelerating Africa team, which carried out an experiment at CERN last year. This year he presented a science paper at the 61st Annual Congress of the South African Institute of Sciences held at UCT in July 2016. He has music colours and academic honours. He is the first boy at St John’s to write an AP Afrikaans matric exam – an impressive feat from someone whose home language is English. He highlights the St John’s Wilderness School and his time on exchange at Abingdon in the UK as instrumental in his personal development.

He is a very diverse student. A highlight of his time at St John’s was participating in the Accelerating Africa team, which carried out an experiment at CERN last year. This year he presented a science paper at the 61st Annual Congress of the South African Institute of Sciences held at UCT in July 2016. He has music colours and academic honours. He is the first boy at St John’s to write an AP Afrikaans matric exam – an impressive feat from someone whose home language is English. He highlights the St John’s Wilderness School and his time on exchange at Abingdon in the UK as instrumental in his personal development.

Patriotism is a word that fits well with Brandon. He hopes to contribute to the development of South Africa, using entrepreneurial skills to close gaps in technology and public need, particularly in the future of transport infrastructure.

His sister matriculated with five distinctions last year and he has two younger brothers at St John’s College. “I come from a very close family, and am the second of four children. My family endured much sadness after my younger brother and I were diagnosed with congenital heart conditions and had to stop all sport. This brought our already close family even closer and I value the fact that we sit at the dinner table every morning and every night and discuss life.”

St John’s College is immensely proud of Brandon for his courage and humility. His achievements, though undoubtedly outstanding, pale in comparison to the life lessons he has taught everyone who has been blessed to know him.

Mrs MacKenzie, filled with pride for her inspirational son, reflected on the past six years: “We have lived in fear of this condition for six years now. We are grateful for every sunrise and every sunset with our children. You need to take it one day at a time. It puts everything in perspective.

“Getting an A-aggregate or playing in the first team becomes completely insignificant when the biggest challenge of the day is building up the courage to walk into your child’s room in the morning and pray he wakes up. Appreciate the little things – there will always be good moments, even if they are few and far between. Do not be ashamed to cry together through the hard times. Never be embarrassed about the hand you were dealt – lady luck does not dish out charms equally and that is just life. Remember, there is always someone else suffering more than you and it is vital to focus on the blessing you have, even if they are simply just being alive.”

 
 
   

 

 

 

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