Zak Reese faced an uncertain future following a devastating dirt bike accident. But with the support of his family and MetroHealth caregivers, Zak continues to defy expectations.
On July 2, 2020, not far from his house in North Royalton, Zak Reese was riding his dirt bike on the street when his left shoulder hit a mailbox at the end of a driveway. While trying to steady himself, he grabbed the bike’s accelerator with his right hand, flew backwards and fell to the ground. Zak, 18, hadn’t been wearing his helmet.
Zak was rushed by ambulance to MetroHealth Medical Center and underwent emergency surgery. The extensive injuries included a traumatic brain injury and multiple skull fractures. Surgeons temporarily removed a portion of Zak’s skull to relieve pressure and stop the bleeding. Other surgeries over the next few days included having a stent inserted in his damaged carotid artery and getting an aneurysm that had developed there coiled.
Relatives from around the world prayed for Zak. His parents, Kimberly and Scott, and sister Victoria stayed by his side.
After three weeks, Zak went to a long-term acute care facility, then to the acute inpatient brain injury rehabilitation unit at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute in Old Brooklyn.
For months it was back and forth between inpatient rehab, where Zak worked with physical therapist Amy Lengyel, and the ICU, to deal with one serious health setback after another.
On January 12, 2021, Zak finally went home for good. He still had a feeding tube and no core strength to sit up by himself. He wasn’t verbal. His mother Kimberly, a MetroHealth nurse, took on nearly all his daily care and led him in range of motion exercises at least once a day. They worked on strengthening his neck muscles so he could hold his head up.
Therapists from the Visiting Nurses Association began working with Zak in the mornings on physical, occupational and speech therapies. Zak’s friends and family took over in the afternoon. Over the next several months he grew strong enough to sit up in his wheelchair for several hours a day and he began to “stand” – with lots of assistance – eventually progressing to 10 minutes at a time.
In June 2021, Zak started going to outpatient therapy twice a week at Old Brooklyn. In just a couple of weeks working with physical therapist Mandy Simmons, Zak was strong enough to be upright in a standing frame without shaking or sweating.
One of Zak’s favorite exercises with occupational therapist Liz Galvin was a ring and hoops exercise that forced both sides of the brain to work together.
Speech therapist Melissa Bostwick-Belanger accessed a device that was controlled with tapping icons on the screen. It allowed Zak to communicate more. Zak also worked on respiratory exercises and strengthening his neck muscles.
Even with ongoing health setbacks and several hospital stays, Zak was improving.
In October, Zak had a breakthrough with his speech while practicing standing for short periods of time.
“All of a sudden, we heard him mumbling the numbers,” Kimberly says. “He was counting down with the timer.” For the first time in 15 months, Zak had said something more than a random word.
Melissa began giving Zak homework for his returning voice that focused more on language and cognitive, and voice skills.
After 16 months of working with them, Zak had his last sessions with Mandy and Liz in November 2022.
In December 2022, Zak received his high school diploma with honors from an online public school.
Today, Zak walks on his own and takes care of all his personal care. He is a volunteer with his church’s welcome team and helps with the children’s ministry.
He continues working with Melissa on a resume and executive function skills so he can begin applying for part-time positions.
On June 24, the Reeses celebrated with about 70 people how far Zak had come over the past three years.
“Zak has gone 180 degrees, from knocking on death’s door to full life,” says Kimberly, who retired in July 2021 after 34 ½ years at MetroHealth to take care of Zak. She says she’s incredibly grateful for MetroHealth.
“My son would not be alive today if it had not been for MetroHealth, and the Lord who led this team.”