Mayville senior Nick Zitlow's determination brings him back to football

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MAYVILLE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Football players find ways to come back from injuries all the time during their careers. But those injuries are not often to their heart.

"I was born with a hole in my heart," said Nick Zitlow, Mayville High School senior. "That was the first thing they noticed when I was like a week old."

"You could actually put your ear to his chest and hear the swishing noise," said Nick's mother, Jodi Zitlow. 

Nick Zitlow was born with a ventricular septal defect, or a hole in the heart, plus a bicuspid valve, rather than a tricuspid valve, which only put more pressure on his heart. He developed Aortic Stenosis, which is a narrowing of the aortic valve and only makes blood flow more difficult.

"For 17 years, we went and had echos all the time, X-rays, MRIs, exams," said Jodi Zitlow.

All forms of monitoring Nick throughout his life to determine when, not if, he would need any corrective surgery. That day came during a stress test in the final week of December in 2020. 

"His blood pressure dropped to like 80 over 60," said Jodi.

After exhausting all other options, it was time for open heart surgery at just 17 years old.

"The fact that I knew I was gonna have it at some point definitely helped. Because I was definitely nervous obviously going into it. But I wasn't really scared. I knew I had good doctors, I knew I had good people supporting me, I knew I would get through it," Nick said.

"My heart just dropped," said Jodi Zitlow. "Oh boy, here we go."

Nick turned 17 on March 4 and had an eight-hour surgery on the 18th. Nick spent 12 days in the hospital and lost 20 pounds before being discharged. Three weeks later he was back at school. 

"Amazing to know I recovered that fast," Nick said.

Then his attention turned to sports. With constant rehab, he was able to play summer baseball, but football had to wait. 

Nick was only allowed to practice until he hit a full six months removed from surgery, but he got cleared one day early to play in a win over Omro on Sept. 17th.

"I think everybody was nervous. I think the whole crowd was nervous, I think the coaches were nervous," said Jodi.

"This is something he wants to do," said Mayville High School football coach Scott Hilber. "As a young man, he wants to be a part of this. He worked hard to be a part of this. We certainly want him to be out there with his friends."

"It was great, I got out there and I'm like 'this is cool,'" said Nick. "I wasn't able to play last year (because of COVID-19 canceling their season), I'm glad I'm able to play this year."

Nick has played on mostly special teams this season, but every minute of it has been worth it. He and his Mayville Cardinals are now one win from their first state title since 1994. 

"It's awesome. I hope it’s the end of it," said Jodi Zitlow. "It's his senior year, I want him to enjoy himself. I'm happy seeing him doing things with his friends, they've all been supportive of him and cheering him on."

"There's probably no greater feeling than coming back from major surgery," said Nick. "Come out on the football field and winning the highest achievement you can on the football field."

Mayville will face Aquinas at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18 for the Division 5 state title at Camp Randall Stadium.

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