Zeke Mankins is a reserved, humble, 13-year-old who loves God, football, and airplanes. Last year doctors told him one of his passions was off-limits; football.
"I was just sad and I almost felt like crying," Mankins said. "But I knew that I still had lots of other stuff that I enjoyed doing, like flying and running track."
Mankins grew up overseas in Papua New Guinea, the son of missionary parents. It's believed he had an undiagnosed, asymptomatic case of strep throat that led to rheumatic fever. The bacteria infection is rare in the United State and other developed countries. About two of every 100,000 school-age students get it. Mankins started feeling symptoms after his family moved back to Midlothian.
"My chest was just, like, in pain," Mankins explained. "His whole heart problem just shocked us, took us off-guard," Zeke's mom Janeene Mankins said.
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"The appearance of those valves looked pretty consistent with something called rheumatic fever," Dr. Alan Sing, Pediatric Cardiologist and Pediatric Specialist with Children's Health in Dallas said.
Mankins had open-heart surgery. He will have to take blood thinners for life, which means contact sports like football are too high risk.
"I think Zeke is a great example of somebody who was able to take the skills he has on the football field and pivot to something else that he's really passionate about," Sing said.
Mankins recently qualified to compete in the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships. He has run track for only one season, yet a medals rack in his bedroom is already filling up with blue and red ribbons.
"You know, as parents, we would have been so thrilled just to see him running around the yard, or just going to a track meet and finishing dead last," Zeke's dad Chad Mankins said. "But he's doing anything but finishing last. He's finishing first, and he's got a bright future."
Mankins is working to get his pilot license. He's also changed his NFL dreams to competing in the next Olympic games.
"Not doing the things you've always wanted to do won't stop you from doing everything you can still do," Mankins said.