Incredible faith, tenacity, and strength
Summer of 2019 was going as planned for 16-year-old Colin Zawada, who was getting ready to begin his junior year of high school in the fall. He had always enjoyed all things outdoors including riding his dirt bike, running track, hiking and riding roller coasters at Six Flags with friends.
On August 6th, everything took a sudden turn when Colin fell off his electric skateboard and hit his head on the road. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, multiple skull fractures, and nerve damage.
Colin’s accident caused him to develop Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (a group of disorders that occur when certain blood vessels or nerves are compressed) and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia syndrome (related to the reduced blood volume that occurs when standing up). One of his biggest challenges after his accident was being able to stand up and walk without becoming extremely dizzy.
Colin was admitted to Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH) in New Brunswick for inpatient therapy where he stayed for almost a month receiving physical, occupational, and speech therapies.
“When Colin first arrived I remember that he was very fatigued and sensitive to the light so our therapy sessions would only last a few minutes and he would have to go back to his dark room and rest. After a few days he started feeling less dizzy and was able to participate in more therapy and that’s when I noticed huge strides in his progress,” said Zachary Gubitosi, PT, DPT, CSCS. “Colin was up for every task and always gave it 100% to the point where I would have to slow him down sometimes because he was so animated about being the best at each activity. I really saw his personality showing when we were able to start incorporating soccer into his daily therapies so he could improve on some of his balance impairments while doing something he really enjoyed. I connected with Colin during his stay mostly because I was very much like him when I was his age. We were both very active kids and enjoyed going out and hanging out with friends so I was able to act as a physical therapist as well as a peer to him to help give him advice about anything. The most important aspect of Colin’s stay was going on an out trip to get ice cream with him because it allowed for us to re-integrate him into the community while being able to navigate crowded sidewalks and adjust to being outside with the light and sounds again.”
Colin recalls his time at the hospital being one of the most difficult and stressful times of his life but the positive nature of his nurses and therapist at CSH and his strong will got him through each day. “Every day I am realizing that I am getting stronger than I was the day before. Looking back it was tough, but I have so many positive memories like when my therapist walked me to get ice cream,” said Colin.
Colin’s favorite part of being at CSH was building friendships and learning about other patients’ stories and experiences. “The therapists at the hospital all hold a special place in my heart and they still do to this day. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them,” said Colin.
Colin, now 18 years old is gradually reclaiming the life that he once knew and loved. Although he is still unable to do some things, like go on rollercoasters and ride his skateboard, CSH has helped him get back outdoors to enjoy fishing and swimming with his friends. He is finding joy every day and doing whatever he can to make himself happier and stronger. Colin hopes to advocate for and inspire other patients who have gone through similar experiences. Once he graduates high school he plans on beginning a career in the diesel truck industry.
Colin’s advice to other patients and families going through similar situations is, “Whatever it is you are going through it’s going to be hard. The best way to get through the emotional and physical pain is by having someone by your side that has your back.” He credits much of his journey to recovery to his family, friends, and girlfriend who have all been a constant support system for him.
He added, “Never forget—no matter how much change has happened in your life you’re still the same on the inside even if you don’t feel it.”