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Zack Seigel with his fiancee, Jessica Leva.

Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Leva

Lightweight rower and 2014 College graduate Zack Seigel died on Saturday, Jan. 10 after a 15-year struggle with Crohn’s disease and a battle with lymphoma that began in February of 2014.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that can be treated but not cured. Seigel was first diagnosed with Crohn’s at eight years old in 2000. Kurt Seigel, his father, says his son’s medication allowed him to lead “a life just like any other eight-year old.”

However, Crohn’s was always a big part of his life. “He had his issues from time to time with flares, where he would have to go on some type of steroid or extra medication,” Seigel’s father said.

In 2001, he began attending Camp Oasis, a summer camp for kids with Crohn’s disease organized by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. His father said that this “created a huge support network.” When Seigel was 12, he met Jessica Leva, his fiancée. Leva says they shared their first kiss when he asked her to the camp dance in 2008 and started officially dating that October. They were set to be married in October of 2015.

“We were married in every single way. Oct. 24, 2015 was just a date,” she said. Leva says the fact that they both had Crohn’s disease helped them understand and comfort one another. “I was in CHOP for 52 days, and he was by my bedside the entire time,” she said.

In middle school, Seigel “always just pushed through that and played soccer on a very high level on a premier soccer team,” his father said. Seigel attended La Salle College High School, a Catholic prep school in the Philadelphia area before majoring in history in the College. He rowed in high school and was on the varsity boat by his sophomore year. “He went through high school all high level courses, got great grades and worked his butt off on the river,” his father said. After high school, he was recruited by Princeton, Cornell and Penn for rowing.

Seigel rowed for his first two and a half years at Penn, and his father said that the rowing team has “been with him through a lot.” Many of his teammates on the lightweight rowing team were planning to be his groomsmen at his upcoming wedding. During the summer of 2011, he rowed for PennAC — a club on boathouse row and won a gold medal in the Canadian Henley, which is “as prestigious as you can get in the rowing world,” his father said.

While Seigel was at Penn, Leva visited him consistently. “I was at University of Penn every weekend. People thought I went to the University of Penn basically,” she said.

“We were proud when he graduated last year and saddened to hear of his death,” Dennis DeTurck, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.

In February of 2014, Seigel was diagnosed with lymphoma. His family is not sure as to whether his Crohn’s disease medication may have caused the lymphoma. He went into remission after a stem cell transfer over the summer. However, he relapsed in early October, according to his father, and “has fought that until this past weekend.”

“The family would like to thank the staff of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, especially the Abramson Cancer Center, Rhoads 3, 6 and 7, and Founders 9 MICU for their compassion and kindness during his illness and final hours,” the family said in a statement.

Camp Oasis has set up a website to accept donations to the camp in Seigel’s memory. The family has requested donations in lieu of flowers.

The viewing will be at St. Alphonsus Catholic at 33 Conwell Drive in Maple Glen, Pa., on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 10 a.m. The funeral will be held on Thursday at 11 a.m.

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