For several years in the not so distant past, there was a common sight at most (if not all) city events: John Zander and his camera.
The longtime Downey resident, 54-year old Zander served as Downey’s official photographer for some time after a conglomerate of major medical issues forced him to shift his focus from his prior career in the entertainment business.
“I had a stroke in 2013,” said Zander. “I have a condition called A Fib…when I have issues, my heart rate will do 60, and then it’ll jump to 180, and then it’ll go to 90, and then it’ll go to 210 with every beat. When that happens, I can’t function…it’s like you’ve been running for 24 hours, because your heart is just beating the crap out of you.”
Unfortunately, Zander only became aware of his heart condition after it caused him to have a stroke in 2013.
“I was really lucky I only lost some vision,” said Zander. “Stroke was on my left side, so I lost vision on my right.”
Still, Zander’s physical abilities forced him to make adjustments. Not able to keep up with the demand from his prior occupation, Zander’s longstanding hobby of photography became his new source of income.
“I would just go around the city and shoot photos and give them away,” said Zander. “…that started the city saying ‘hey, maybe you could come out and shoot this thing.’ So, that led to being the official city photographer for three years.”
Yet he was still plagued by ailment.
Zander discovered that he had bulging disks in his back. Rather than surgery, he opted for a pain blocker.
After a relatively easy procedure involving a shot into the spine, Zander found himself feeling “pretty good” within a couple weeks.
Then on October 28th of last year - around three weeks removed from his procedure - Zander woke up knowing something was wrong.
“My vision was so jacked up,” said Zander. “You have a headache like you wouldn’t believe.”
Upon arriving at the hospital, he was whisked away into the emergency room.
Zander had had stroke number two. Doctors determined it was Zander’s previous procedure for his back that was the cause.
The combination of medical issues has left Zander unable to work, and there is almost nothing he can do about it.
“On top of my stroke symptoms…the pain blocker wore off a long time ago, and I can’t get the pain blocker because I cannot go off the medication…I can’t get the pain blocker and I can’t get the back surgery because the risk of a third stroke is too great.”
And despite being “lucky” through two strokes already, Zander would likely not be as fortunate if another should occur.
“It’s curtains,” said Zander. “Nobody makes it through three strokes.”
Unable to make an income of his own and due to difficulties securing disability funding, Zander has had to rely on his wife Dawn to make ends meet.
“It’s been nine months; who can live without working for nine months?” said Zander.
Zander has also found some financial support through many of his friends in the community. A GoFundMe page was even set up to help out.
“So many people reached out and helped me,” said Zander. “It was such a blessing.”
Still, Zander has been looking for some way to make an income, and has found an opportunity in a surprising and familiar territory.
“The now president of the Chamber of Commerce Joanna Peterson, who is one of my dearest friends, we were at lunch and I brought some cards; did some card tricks for her. She was so amazed,” said Zander. “That afternoon she called me and said Gallatin Dental that she works for was going to have a booth at the Ride and Stride, and would [I] come and do some magic at the booth.”
Zander had previously been a professional magician for around five years, but had stepped away from magic to pursue other career opportunities.
His successful performance at the Ride and Stride sparked an idea.
“Talking to my wife, I said ‘I wonder if this is something I could do again.”
Zander has already started to ease his way back into the profession, hosting magic seminars and performing several times.
He recently held a small show at the Masonic Lodge for the purpose of recording a demo video he could potentially send out to stores and potential clients.
Zander stressed his thanks to those that have supported him – especially that of his wife and son Gibson - as he makes yet another transition.
“I’m not a photographer anymore,” said Zander. “I’m a magician.”