NORTH SALEM, N.Y.--North Salem High School graduate Zachary Bassin, a promising Marist College student with a passion for sports, passed away Aug. 1 due to chronic rejection of a double lung transplant he received in 2015. He had developed B-Cell lymphoma, a post-transplant lymphoid disorder.
Bassin, 21, had cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. While the disease was an ever-present, sometimes inspiring but ultimately defeating force in his life,
Bassin’s mother, Phyllis Bassin, said it did not define him or the life he led.
“He had so many friends at his funeral,” she said, adding that at least 100 of Bassin’s classmates from Marist College and North Salem High School, where he graduated in 2013, attended the services held Sunday, Aug. 6, at Temple Israel of Northern Westchester.
“That was a tribute to him that he touched so many people his age,” she said. “Not just because he was a survivor of all these things and an inspiration, but because he was overall a funny kid that was fun to be with — not somebody that they felt sorry for but somebody they enjoyed spending time with.”
Bassin was a natural athlete. The level at which he could participate physically dropped over time, Phyllis Bassin said, but he consistently immersed himself in all-things sports. He was an avid golfer and this past semester, he worked as an intern at Madison Square Garden (MSG) in public relations.
He was on track to graduate this year and was thrilled with his experience interning at MSG, Phyllis Bassin said. His career goal was to work in sports communications, which his mother said he showed a flair for from a young age.
“At the Tyler Place, our vacation spot for 10 years in Vermont on Lake Champlain, as a 4- or 5-year-old he was the commentator for a softball game between staff and guests,” she wrote in his eulogy.
With sports statistics memorized “for virtually every sport,” Phyllis Bassin said he could rattle off information about any professional athlete or sports team on cue, which although it didn’t ultimately land him a coveted spot with the Professional Golf Association of America (PGA) as an intern this summer, it impressed them enough that they offered him a job out of college, she said.
She added that PGA internships are highly competitive, and although he didn’t make the final round, which she said consists of 25 slots, he was in the top 70.
Fellow North Salem High School and Marist graduate Daniel Ketterer was friends with Bassin throughout high school and college. The two shared a love of the Knicks and the Giants, but ended up sharing a lot of their college experience when they ended up rooming two doors down from each other at Marist.
Bassin was active on campus, Ketterer said. The two assisted in organizing and staffing events put on by the school’s various clubs and organizations with the office of student activities. Ketterer said Bassin was well-liked among peers on campus.
“He was very social,” he said. “He had a lot of friends. He was a good listener and so he was very easy to talk to because he cared about what you had to say. He took an interest in people, so I think he made an impact on a lot of people in that way.”
In February, Bassin was chosen as one of Marist’s “Top 100 Most Inspiring People,” which Ketterer and Phyllis Bassin both said he was humble about. (A feature article written for the Marist Circle at that time can be read here: https://www.fortherecord2017.com/home/2017/2/20/xihxiss4hjm5vjgc418jxwqmecoo3u?rq=zack%20Zack.)
“I think he inspired almost all of his friends,” Ketterer said. “Just to see the way he carried himself through adversity and didn’t let it affect his personal and social life, and could remain himself through all that other personal stuff he was dealing with, he gave everybody an example of how they should carry themselves.”
Phyllis Bassin said her son confided in her when he was feeling sad or discouraged, but for the most part was a happy-go-lucky person who always looked forward and didn’t let setbacks get to him. She said he never felt sorry for himself.
Bassin had a blog he updated occasionally, writing about his experiences. With only three entries, it offers a firsthand account that reflects the traits his loved ones describe. Even during a major setback, he was determined to get back to his life.
By 2016, Bassin had recovered from the transplant he received and no longer needed an oxygen mask. He had transferred to the University of North Carolina in the spring of that year and was excited to get involved in campus life. A visit to the doctor for a tonsil pain eventually led to his cancer diagnosis in March.
The blog entries offer a glimpse into Bassin’s character, with quotes by such characters as Rocky Balboa: “Life’s not about how hard a hit you can give, it’s about how many you can take.”
One thing is very clear from the entries: He prioritized his loved ones and looked for the good in everything.
He wrote about his treatments, which resulted in chest tightness, but without complaint. He also pointed out how competent the nurses who assisted him were.
The entries also included details of the rich life he wanted to return to as soon as possible; however, it wasn’t feeling better, playing golf or watching games on television he wanted most, but being with the people he loved.
“It is without question the worst part of constantly fighting medical issues,” he said of the isolation out of medical necessity. “I can handle everything else but please don’t take time away that I can be spending with friends and family.”
Even when Bassin returned to Marist last August, his concern wasn’t with himself, and his focus wasn’t on his own disappointment.
“He kept coming back to wanting to write a book about his life to inspire others with his ability to overcome adversity,” Phyllis Bassin wrote. “Recently when diagnosed with chronic rejection of his lung transplant, he said that he didn’t want to write a book that didn’t have a happy ending. When he found out the implications of having chronic rejection, his first thoughts were he didn’t want to worry his friends and he didn’t want to disappoint people that he failed to maintain his renewed lung function post-transplant.”
Phyllis Bassin wrote about the special bond she shared with her son.
“I had the privilege and the despair of sharing every health-related triumph or tragedy he experienced. I witnessed the thrill of these achievements and the anger and frustration when they were taken away,” she said. “ I was there for every doctor’s visit, every blood draw, every procedure, every hospitalization, every surgery, every chemo cycle. Time and time again I saw examples of his bravery as he relentlessly battled to live the life of a normal kid.”
In Bassin’s eighth-grade yearbook, he quoted Lance Armstrong, she said, which also illustrates his character.
“Pain is temporary,” the quote read. “It may last a minute or an hour or a day or a year but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit however, it lasts forever.”
The flood of Facebook comments and messages of support from loved ones give Phyllis Bassin peace in knowing that her son’s memory lives on in all of the happy memories people have of him, all he had to offer to the world, and the impact he had on others’ lives.
“It gives me comfort that so many will not forget that once there was this incredible individual.”
Zack is survived by his parents, Phyllis Bassin, Dr. Alfred Bassin, and his brother, Ethan.
In lieu of flowers, family encouraged contributions be made in his memory to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Greater New York Chapter or Donate Life America.