• Evien Berry

Zach VanDeWeghe Overcomes Heart Surgery and Stroke

This year, 2021, has been a difficult year for us all as we try to adjust to any semblance of “normalcy” in a COVID-ridden world. Still, through a pandemic riddled with death, mental health issues, and economic struggles, the resilience of the human spirit always manages to shine through. Nowhere is this as evident as in Spring Lake student, Zachary VanDeWeghe, whose past year has been unimaginably difficult.

Zach found out in the fall that he would need open heart surgery to replace a valve. He had already had two open heart surgeries for a congenital heart defect when he was younger, so they thought they knew what to expect. He had the surgery on December 2nd at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital. The day following the surgery, the nurses found that Zach was not moving anything on the left side of his body. He got an MRI and the doctors determined that he had had a stroke that largely affected the right side of his brain. A blood clot was cutting off blood to his brain, so he could not move his left arm, leg, hand, or foot. Terrifyingly, Zach went into an emergency surgery to remove a large portion of his skull to keep him alive if his brain began to swell. The surgery went well, and Zach was in the ICU for three weeks before being transferred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Center. However, his road to recovery was just beginning.

At Mary Free Bed, Zach’s recovery consisted of many types of therapy: physical, occupational, speech, recreational, and music. Despite the circumstances, it was up to Zach to make the best of a difficult situation. His parents shared their experience at Mary Free Bed during his recovery: “Zach liked to joke around with the nurses and nurse techs, and everyone there was wonderful and supportive.” His resilience is even more profound when looking at how far he has come through a series of extremely difficult obstacles: “When he first arrived at Mary Free Bed, Zach couldn’t even stand up, but gradually he learned to walk again, and regained some movement in his right arm also.” After six weeks at Mary Free Bed, Zach is finally home. He still attends outpatient therapy three days a week to work on his left leg and foot to improve his walking, and to regain movement in his left hand. He had surgery on April 5th to replace his skull piece, which finally allowed for him to remove the helmet he needed to wear in case of a fall, something which he was looking forward to.

Currently, Zach is taking several classes online. He hopes to return to school in the fall for his senior year. His parents shared that he “especially misses the tech center where he was in the construction program.”

Zach’s ability to tackle therapy and make the most out of the road to recovery is truly an inspiration to us all. It is amazing to see him mount obstacles that at first looked impossible, such as relearning how to walk. As he continues to recover, we look forward to seeing Zach in the halls again next fall.

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