Sayville physician assistant helping COVID-19 patients gets wonderful news in his son’s cancer fight


If anyone deserved good news at Easter, it was Sayville’s Mark Zender.

The Mather Hospital physician assistant — who during every shift at the Northwell hospital is caring for patients suffering from coronavirus — lost his dad Ulrich to the virus two weeks go. And now, his mom Helga is battling the virus.

Still, Zender is counting his blessings today. His 16-year-old son Matt — after 19 rounds of chemotherapy and 107 days in the hospital since his bone cancer diagnosis last June — had a PET scan and MRI last week that came back negative for cancer.

“Matt is the silver lining in all of this,” Zender said. “He has a couple of follow-up tests left, but he is essentially in remission.”

Furthermore, orthopedics gave Matt Zender, a junior on the fencing team at Sayville High School, the green light to begin rehabbing his right leg. His leg has remained immobile since he underwent limb preservation surgery at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital during the fall.

“Matt was able to bend his leg for the first time since last September,” said Zender, whose son is a triplet along with his siblings Christopher and Katie.

The other good news is that Mark Zender’s mom “seems to be doing fine,” he said.

At work in Port Jefferson, Zender is caring for coronavirus patients in a makeshift ICU unit. He said the hospital has many coronavirus patients being kept alive on ventilators — and that each one of them would be “one of our sickest patients on a typical day.”

“The roller coaster of emotions includes taking care of patients and updating families who are on life support with the same illness that my father succumbed to,” Zender said, “holding their hands and wondering if anyone held Dad’s hand as he passed.”

Zender recalled how excruciatingly difficult it was to get updates on his father’s condition, while noting how important it is for him to return calls from relatives of his patients to give them updates.

“Losing Dad early in the pandemic definitely made caring for COVID patients more poignant and personal,” he said.

Ulrich Zender, who died 78 two weeks before his 50th wedding anniversary, emigrated to the United States from Germany at 23. He owned a bakery and “loved his family, friends, sports (especially soccer), animals, good jokes and his homeland Germany,” Mark Zender said.

Mark Zender’s parents, Helga and Ulrich.

“He was a kind, generous and gentle man who liked everyone he met,” Zender wrote in a March 29 Facebook post. “Our biggest heartache is that, due to no visitors allowed, he died alone in the hospital with only a brief video conference with us to say ‘goodbye.'”

Because of the pandemic, a wake and funeral mass were not held. A memorial mass will be held when the pandemic passes, Zender said.

Mark Zender of Sayville and his son Matt.

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