top of page

Broad Shoulders

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

Admit it, you probably take more things for granted than you realize. Very few of us, when confronted with continuous obstacles and adversity, wouldn’t ask “why me?!?” and drift into a cycle of self pity. Tyrone Mack does not rank among this cohort. This is a man who, since he was 12 years old, has been confronting obstacles that would likely break most of us in short order.

Tyrone Mack. photo: Bryan Lathrop

Tyrone is a 54-year-old Philadelphia native with 30+ years working as a building engineer. I entered his home expecting to be flooded with details about his [very] recent cancer diagnosis. Instead, I was impressed by his overwhelming, nearly palpable love for his family, which eclipses all else, even himself. We spoke for nearly 45 minutes before he mentioned his own serious health issues. Tyrone began our interview by showing me his family photo wall, proudly pointing out and naming each of his kids and his wife (Sandy). Then he showed me a weathered painting of a huge influence on his life, his father, who was a jazz musician. “I got my work ethic from my father. He worked until he was 89. Work hard, play hard, play hard, work hard. That’s what he taught me.”

That spirit has carried him a long way. He was 12 when his mother died from multiple myeloma. ”Then it was me, my dad and my sister” and his grandmother moved in after she’d had her legs amputated due to illness. With his father fighting lung cancer, his older sister stomach cancer, and his grandmother disabled, Tyrone assumed the role of caretaker before he was even a teenager. “I would come home from school and clean. My sister and grandmother would teach me how to cook by telling me what to put in the pots. My sister would cry, saying “you’re my little brother, you shouldn’t have to change me. You’re not having any type of childhood.” and I said “You changed my pampers when I was little; I’ll change yours. You're my sister, I love you; and I’m going to take care of you.”

Tyrone's daughter Mackiya. photo: Bryan Lathrop

Tyrone took care of his sister, grandmother and father until they passed; then came another obstacle when his second daughter, Mackiya (pronounced mack-eye-uh) was born with Tetralogy of Fallot—a rare heart condition caused by a combination of four defects which require multiple corrective surgeries over the patient’s lifetime. Mackiya’s first surgery came mere days after her birth. Tyrone and Sandy were rightfully nervous about bringing home and caring for a child who required constant monitoring. Tyrone recalls the first time her pulse-ox monitor went off in the middle of the night, “My wife and I jumped up; she turned left, I turned right and we bumped into each other in the dark.” Mackiya is now 9 years old and Tyrone has become a hyper-vigilant father who gets just 4-6 hours of sleep nightly—and has for the past eight years. “My mind doesn’t let me sleep…I toss and turn, thinking I gotta check the pulse-ox...gotta check it.”