Palmetto High School junior Mackenzie Gusman is a cheerful, involved student. She’s the Junior Class president, elected again after serving as president of the Class of 2014 as a freshman and sophomore.
She has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for her class two years in a row and no one would be surprised if she wins that award again as a junior. While her high school life is going well and she is making a difference, Gusman is facing major health obstacles, although outwardly she seems to be perfectly healthy.
“Last year I was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (a liver problem), ulcerative colitis and autoimmune hepatitis,” she says. “They found my liver enzyme count was abnormally high. I’ve had many ultrasounds, one biopsy and one endoscopy.”
The bottom line is that while she’s okay for now, eventually the condition is going to require a liver transplant.
“I’m on the list. You want to keep your organ for as long as you can,” she says. “That’s the only part that scares me, the unknown. I look at it as a little speed bump. I don’t know when it’s going to come. I don’t know how long I’m going to be in the hospital.”
Until then, she is taking medication to control the situation, but the medicine can’t cure the problem.
“I couldn’t be more thankful; I’m just as healthy as any other teenager can be, but I have a liver problem,” Gusman says. “It was very emotional for my family. We would go to places that would have post transplant or pre-transplant services. My parents would break down.”
Before learning of her liver problem, Gusman played basketball for the Palmetto junior varsity team. But continuing to play would require a shield, so she switched to managing the team instead. She also coaches rookie girls who play in the Beth Am League.
“I’ve done it for three seasons,” she says.
Despite everything, she is a bundle of energy and even coordinated Plant the Pride as a sophomore.
“We came to protect the environment, we put new mulch in and picked up the trash,” she says. “The kids saw all the things that were done (when they came in on Monday).”
She spoke at the Junior Ring Ceremony this year and helped coordinate Panther Prowl, a Homecoming week nighttime pep rally.
“All the classes, clubs and honor societies put on a skit,” she says. “We had to decorate a hallway.”
Gusman is so involved at Palmetto because of the advice from her family.
“My older brother and sister actually told me to take high school very seriously from the first day,” she says. “I’ve always been the type to be involved. In my freshman year, I said I’m going to run for class president against two or three kids, and I won.”
After that, she only had to face one opponent at each election.
Outside of school, Gusman volunteers every other Monday at the Child Bereavement Center. “That’s what I want, that’s what I need,” she says, adding that she wants to be a child psychologist.
“Just to have the opportunity to talk to kids about the loss of a loved one, I come home with the biggest smile on my face, knowing I’m there to help them,” Gusman says. “I wish I could go there more often.”
— By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld
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