Meet Zak Attack
Zak Ostapowicz, Age 9, from Akron, Ohio
Sidekicks: Mom, dad, sister, nurse Cynthia Bennett and the late Luke Zac, Akron Children’s Hospital suture technician.
When he’s not busy overcoming obstacles: Zak enjoys riding BMX bikes, singing in the church choir and writing his own songs.
Did you know fact: Zak has played the drums since he was 3 years old.
Why Zak is a #ACHero: After suffering several concussions and receiving nearly 2 dozen stitches, Zak followed doctor’s orders so he could safely get back to the activities he enjoyed most. An avid BMX bike rider, Zak is a big supporter of always wearing a helmet, knowing it’s one of the best ways to keep him in the sport he loves.
Zak’s Story: From dirt tracks to basketball courts, Zak Ostapowicz covers a lot of ground. But, after several concussions, he found himself in new territory – the sidelines – forcing him to reset, not quit, the activities he loves most.
“Zak was born at just 31 weeks and has been determined to overcome difficulties ever since,” said mom, Erika Ostapowicz. “If he decides to do something, he’s all-in because he wants to be the best he can be…It’s just who he is.”
At age 7, Zak got a dirt bike for Christmas. Being new to the sport, his family knew he’d need a good helmet and lots of practice.
While riding at a local track, Zak came down off a jump when another rider flew over him. The foot peg of the rider’s bike hit Zak in the head, knocking him to the ground and gouging his helmet.
“He was unconscious for a couple minutes and then came to,” said mom, Erika. “I wanted him to get the best care possible so we drove 2 ½ hours to Akron Children’s.”
Once at Akron Children’s emergency department, Zak was screened for a concussion and failed a portion of the test. Later, doctors determined he injured the nerve that runs from the back of the head to the ears and eyes.
In support, Zak started therapy where he worked on balance and head and neck movement. Weeks later, Zak was still having trouble concentrating at school. The effects of the concussion and the demands of school became too much so Zak missed half of 2nd grade while he recovered.
By the end of summer, Zak was ready for school and ready to ride his dirt bike again.
“We didn’t want him to be afraid of his bike so we told him it if he wanted to ride, we would support him,” said Erika.
Back on the track, Zak found himself in a familiar situation. After landing a jump, another rider came up from behind and ran over Zak’s head. The impact caused his helmet to push down and slip backward, exposing a portion of Zak’s face.
The accident left a hole in his forehead, 2 black eyes and a broken tooth. Zak was rushed to a nearby trauma unit at an adult hospital.
“Once he was stable, I knew he was going to need stitches,” said Erika. “The only place I would let touch his face with stitches was Akron Children’s.”
Zak’s parent’s brought him to Akron Children’s where, for 2.5 hours, the late Luke Zac, a suture technician, stitched him up with care. The facial injury took 23 stitches and 6 months to heal.
“Luke did an amazing job on Zak…it was a privilege to be one of his patients,” said Erika. “We followed all his care instructions … today the scar is barely noticeable.”
Part of Zak’s recovery also included 6 weeks of therapy with neurology nurse practitioner, Cynthia Bennett-Brown, who taught him exercises and techniques to alleviate issues such as headaches, dizziness and balance.
Once recovered, Zak took to the basketball court. During a championship game, he was struck hard in the forehead and found himself back in Akron Children’s ER.
“Dr. Adarsh Gupta was absolutely amazing,” said Erika. “He talked to Zak about all kinds of things and did his entire exam without Zak ever knowing he was having it done.”
Months later, Zak had a CT scan to ensure the tissue in his brain healed, and he has regular checkups with his pediatrician, Dr. Richard Ball, to monitor his health.
“We are huge proponents of helmets,” said Erika. “Zak rides BMX bikes now and he doesn’t think twice about putting it on and advocating for himself if something doesn’t feel right.”
Zak is the featured hero selected by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, at the Goodyear Half Marathon & 10K on August 12. Zak and his family will be featured at the Goodyear Hero Zone to inspire and cheer on runners.