Zach Young celebrated his 22nd birthday yesterday, a month after he suffered cardiac arrest.
After experiencing a medically induced coma, five surgeries and stints in four medical facilities, Zach will leave his rehabilitation center today able to walk, talk and appreciate that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl last week.
Zach, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, will return to Binghamton University this September, according to his parents, Jack and Audrey Young, who spoke to Pipe Dream at length about their son’s dramatic misfortune and incredible recovery.
He had already finished all the requirements for his degree before this semester, but wants to return to BU because “he loves the school so much,” Mrs. Young said.
She said that Zach is truly lucky to be alive.
“If you have a heart attack, you can live through it,” she said. “If you go into cardiac arrest, you just die. He’s the 5 percent that gets to live.”
On the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 11, Zach was about to fill in as goalie for a local hockey team when he collapsed.
Rich Holsher, a fourth-year nursing student who also planned to play in the hockey game, correctly assessed his friend’s condition as cardiac arrest.
“When Zach’s friend saw him take his last breath, they shocked him three times [with an automated external defibrillator],” Mrs. Young said.
Within eight minutes of his collapse, an ambulance had transported Zach to St. Joseph’s hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., located down the street from the hockey rink.
“The things that had to happen for Zach to survive, I think, would require a greater percentage to win the lottery,” Mr. Young said. “For so many things to come out exactly correct, it’s beyond comprehension and kind of miraculous.”
When Mr. and Mrs. Young arrived at the hospital, they were told that Zach’s condition was unsure.
Heart disease, specifically an arrhythmia, runs in Zach’s family. Zach is the third generation in his family that has been stricken by the disease, according to Mr. Young, who has had a defibrillator pacemaker since January 2006.
Mr. Young said Zach saw a cardiologist for an echocardiogram in May 2011.
“No abnormality showed up in his heart rhythm,” he said.
Zach was only stabilized after being shocked 10 more times. He was placed in a medically induced coma for one week, from Jan. 11 to Jan. 17.
FIXING A HEART
After Zach’s condition stabilized, he was moved to St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, N.Y. There, he was placed in an “arctic suit” to maintain brain function by keeping his body temperature low, according to Mrs. Young.
“His temperature was not getting any lower, so they started packing him in ice and water,” Mrs. Young said. “At that point, the doctors had told us he probably wasn’t going to live and that he was not going to make it out of surgery.”
Zach survived the initial prognosis and would undergo five surgeries within two weeks.
The day after his cardiac arrest, he was transferred to a third facility, the Westchester Medical Center, where he was treated with a machine that oxygenated his blood.
Though Zach had been added to the transplant list, it became apparent in the days following that he had started to heal.
On Jan. 17, doctors performed a test that determined Zach’s heart and lungs were beginning to rejuvenate.
“His heart has been beating on its own since then,” Mrs. Young said.
Zach now has a pacemaker defibrillator, which was implanted on Jan. 24, but he is expected to make a complete recovery.
“After this is all over, he will be able to do anything he wants to do in his life, except anything that could compromise his heart like going on a roller coaster,” Mrs. Young said.
Though Zach has no memory of the accident or the week prior, the rest of his memory remains intact, his parents said.
Zach can walk as well, though he lacks full mobility in the toes on his right foot. Doctors are administering tests to determine the extent of the nerve damage in his right leg.
Zach was in rehab at Glen Cove Center since Wednesday, Feb. 1. His rehab consists of physical, occupational and speech therapy.
ON THE MEND
Mr. Young said that while Zach itches to get home and regain his normal life — like sleeping in his own bed, showering in his own bathroom and rejoining his fraternity brothers in Binghamton — he rarely complains.
After the ordeal, Mr. and Mrs. Young simply appreciate that they can still take care of their son.
“In reality, we’ve already received perfection,” he said. “Being able to kiss our son, hold his hand, get him another glass of ‘Arnold Palmer,’ or a few more pretzel M&M’s, what an unbelievable gift.”
But Zach’s parents admit that they are not the only people who have helped Zach along the way.
From school officials to brothers from Young’s fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi, to his friends from home, Young has had a “total support system,” according to Mrs. Young.
“His friends have been seeing him almost every day and their support is like medicine for Zach,” she said. “The school has just been above and beyond amazing.”
Anthony Pancotto, a brother in TEP and a senior majoring in industrial and system engineering, has been friends with Zach since freshman year.
“Zach is just this kindhearted soul with nothing but love for everyone and everything in life,” he said. “He stays true to himself and lives each day to the fullest.”
Jami Goodman, a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, has also been friends with Zach since freshman year, calling him the life of the party who has the capability of putting a smile on anyone’s face.
“Good things happen to good people, so I am not surprised about the miraculous recovery he has made,” Goodman said.
Pancotto said he is inspired by Zach’s story.
“Zach’s entire story opens your eyes to the fact that at any time, life can be swept from under you, leaving you in a state of complete vulnerability,” Pancotto said. “Only then do you realize the significance of waking up each day.”