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November 26th, 2010
12:17 PM ET

Human Factor: Reclaiming life on the field – and off

Each week in the Human Factor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces you to a survivor who has overcome tremendous odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. Be inspired by their successes, as we have been.

At the age of 11 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor that was thought to be fatal. Many doctors did not think I would survive, let alone walk, talk and live a normal life.

I was in a bed for three months including a week in a coma, which meant I lost the majority of muscle in my body. I had to go through rigorous rehabilitation to learn how to walk, talk, and do other daily tasks that appear to be so easy. Although it felt like forever to regain these abilities, I always maintained faith, determination, and a positive attitude.

At this time what was foremost on my mind was staying alive to see the next day and getting out of the hospital at some point. If I had the opportunity to relive this experience, I would not change a thing because it has made me the man I am today.

The main reasons I decided to play football were to inspire people and to prove that anything is possible. I want to teach people how to truly live without fear or regrets.

When deciding to play football, people told me that I could get seriously injured and that it would not be smart to put myself in harm’s way, but I wasn’t going to let such fears stop me from reaching my dreams.

I also did not want to live my life wondering how it might have been different if I had played football. I want to encourage people to reach their full potential in life and never stop reaching for their dreams.

There are thousands of kids my age and younger in the hospital fighting every day to stay alive. The kids that I came across in the hospital were as heroic and brave as any I have ever met. I consider myself blessed to have witnessed such courage and charisma for life in these kids. I am most proud to be able to say that I am one of them, that I have fought the same battle that they fight so courageously every single day.

It’s kids like these who inspire me to get back up after every play. To think that I may have inspired even one person as much as these kids have inspired me makes me feel like I have done my job. I’m not only playing football for myself; I’m playing for all the kids who have never had the chance to play due to illnesses.

If there is one thing that I would like for people to take from my story, it is to always keep a positive attitude and to continue to reach for their dreams regardless of any setbacks they may encounter.

Human Factor appears on "SGMD," 7:30 a.m. Saturday-Sunday

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Filed under: Brain • Cancer • Human Factor

soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. glorynine

    Hi Zach,
    I admire your courage and determination. If you were lucky enough to overcome the risks of surgery and the other treatments you had, why shouldn't you enjoy even just a minute of what you always wanted to do? I am sure you understand the serious risks involved in playing football, but you choose to play anyway...this is what you want to do with your "second chance" as others are calling it. As a person with freewill, and as a developmental adult (though perhaps not a legal one) you should do exactly what you want with your own body. mind, and spirit as long as it harms no-one else, why not? I am curious as to what your diagnosis was...the big elephant in the room...GBM? PNET? medulloblastoma? something else? Remarkable story.

    November 27, 2010 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Scotty

    Hey Zach,

    I just saw your story on CNN and would much appreciate a chance to get in touch with you. I too overcame childhood cancer, played four years of football in high school and am now a senior studying Biomedical Engineering. I'll also try and contact you through Facebook.

    Scotty S.

    November 27, 2010 at 17:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Zach

      Please do. I am on fb

      November 27, 2010 at 19:31 | Report abuse |
  3. Gaylord

    Avoid Microwave Cell phones. Don't stare into your microwave oven at close range.

    God and Democracy

    November 28, 2010 at 07:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Marisa

    Everyone who is saying all of this negative stuff is rediculose. The kid has faith and you guys are just bringing him right back down. So shut up your not helping. If you have nothing positive to say then don't say anything. I think he is an amazing kid and his family and especially siblings if he has any they must of gone through so much watching there son/brother die right in front of them. But then he ends up fine and a football player...that's just amazing that doesn't just happen to anyone it happens to someone that's very special. So Zachary keep your head high your absolutely fantastic.

    November 28, 2010 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JJ

      Thank you Marisa, My mom always told me that "If you don't have anything nice or positive to say, DON'T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL!!!"

      November 28, 2010 at 21:32 | Report abuse |
  5. tierra

    fyi: although this is a story based on him, and about the struggles he went through to regain his strenght and life, its also for the people that have brain injuries period. it seems like its only those who have had troubles with tumors, seizures, etc. that really know and feel what zach went through. i know. still waiting to drive. keep playing zach!

    November 29, 2010 at 05:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Oodoodanoo

    ONLY JESUS CAN RECLAIM HIS LIFE!!! THIS IS A ZOMBIE PEOPLE!!! GET A CLUE HE IS TALKING ABOUT BRAINS JEEZ!!!!!

    November 29, 2010 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Free

    Спасибо понравилось !

    December 1, 2010 at 03:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. unanomous

    i don't know what you people are thinking when you write your ignorant comments about how zach just wants attention and at least he got a cnn interview out of it. you are cruel and ignorant people with a pathetic life to say such terrible things to a underage kid. Zach is an inspiration to everyone that has ever had a brain tumor before or now or has a familly member or close friend that has one. Big ball you are a huge dick, so everyone can see where you got your name, MM your are an ignorant excuse for a human being.

    Zach you are so admirable and are doing so well! you are an inspiration to me and so many people! keep living your life and you have proven that dreams really do come true.

    December 1, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.