Seven-year-old boy in need of a heart transplant

Community surrounds family with financial support


East Patchogue boy and second-grader (learning at a fourth-grade level) at Verne Critz Elementary School, Kenny Zalenski Jr., 7, is currently hospitalized and in need a of a heart transplant.

In early February, Kenny Jr. went into sudden heart failure due to an infection that attacked his heart. Otherwise a healthy boy, he struggled with an ear infection that went viral and caused swelling of the heart and then full organ failure.

After weeks of fighting to save Kenny and his heart, it was determined that he needed a heart transplant to survive.

Currently, Kenny is in the ICU at Columbia Hospital in Manhattan on a Berlin Heart machine taking place of the function of his heart. He has already endured many surgeries, and is on a feeding tube trying to put on weight and learn to walk again after being bed-ridden for many weeks.

The goal, his aunt Stephanie Owad of Medford said, is to get him out of the ICU into a rehabilitation facility and healthy enough to accept a heart once one comes.

“His tiny body has been put through so much already and all he wants to do is to be able to run and play with his little brother and sister again,” she said, noting he has a younger sister and brother as well as a cat at home.

However, she said, the family has been told he will require hospitalization for months to possible years while he waits for a new heart. The process of getting a heart could take up to a year, and as long as the heart fits in his cavity, it can be used.
“Kenny is the most amazing little boy, full of love and kindness,” said his father, Kenny Zalenski. “He is an amazing big brother who loves to learn and always wants to promote happiness and love for everyone. I know one day he will make a difference in the world.”

Kenny Jr. loves to read and is surrounded by books in his hospital room. His school district has also been able to help him by continuing his studies virtually.

“Our hearts at Verne W. Critz Elementary School go out to our brave second-grader Kenny, who is currently awaiting a heart transplant,” principal Mandy Mazziotti said. “He is continuing his educational learning while he waits, and his teachers and classmates try to keep his spirits up by sending him notes and cards.”

She noted that he is strong, and they know that he will overcome this adversity with the help of his family and community. 

“Kenny is truly inspiring!” she continued. “Verne Critz stands in solidarity with Kenny and his family during this challenging time, sending strength and hope for a successful transplant and a swift recovery.”

“The well-being and support of our students and families is always paramount,” added superintendent of schools Antonio Santana. “We are appreciative of the school’s support of Kenny and his family, and we will continue to keep Kenny in our thoughts and prayers with the hope and expectation that he will not only be successful in securing a transplant, but that he will recover and continue to be a part of our community for years to come.”
Despite hope for his wellness, this has also caused a severe financial burden on the family. His father is self-employed and his mother is a bartender. Working has been made nearly impossible while staying by his side in the ICU.

In an effort to help relieve those costs, the community has set up a GoFundMe, which has already raised over $16,000 with a goal of $60,000. A total of 202 donations have already been made. Owad will also be hosting a fundraiser on June 30 from 1 to 5 p.m. at James Joyce Pub in Patchogue.

“He is a fighter and is in good spirits, making the best of his situation,” Owad said of her nephew. “We appreciate all the help we get from the community.”

She said she is in need of donation or raffle items in any form of merchandise or gift cards to help make the fundraiser successful. All donations can be sent to: Stephanie Owad at 142 Bellport Avenue, Medford NY 11763.

“We appreciate all of Kenny’s supporters more than you can imagine; every little bit counts,” his father Kenny said. “Thank you.” 


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