Positive prognosis for Hill-Murray football player who collapsed at game

Zach Zarembinski and family are saying "thank you" to the community

Sloane Martin
November 16, 2018 - 1:41 pm

Fewer than three weeks after he collapsed on the sideline of a Hill-Murray football game, Zach Zarembinski is on his way to recovery.

The offensive lineman was suffering from a massive brain bleed the night of Oct. 27. People at the game and first responders jumped into action, knowing every second was critical. The time from the field to the operating table where he underwent an emergency craniotomy — estimated by his mother Tracy Zarembinski to be less than 45 minutes — is why his long-term outlook is positive.

Now Zach and his family are saying "thank you" to first responders, staff at Regions Hospital and the community.

"It's unbelievable and I am just grateful for all the support that I've gotten and all the people that have been there for me," he said.

Zarembinski is now going through physical therapy. He has to wear a helmet because a portion of his skull was removed to accommodate post-brain injury swelling. In the future, he'll have a plate placed.

Though he knows he can't play contact sports anymore, he wants sports to remain a part of his life.

"This spring I'm considering throwing in track and playing some noncontact sports," he said. "I still want to be involved with sports because I love them so much."

For some, the immediate reaction might be to place the blame on football, a sport enveloped in a discussion on brain safety at all levels, but what caused the incident remains unknown.

"In Zach's case, we knew some of his key physical findings," Regions Hospital trauma surgeon Dr. David Dries said. "We knew that he was at a football game, that he's a big lineman. Certainly, there was the potential for a blow to the head, but no one said, 'We saw this and that explains it.'"

Dr. Dries says Zach's good overall health as an athlete contributed to his strong road to recovery. Zach's sister Becca Zarembinski is overjoyed at this progress.

"The way he worked so hard for his senior season and weightlifting and stuff," she said, "I knew right from that moment this is going to directly translate to his recovery and it sure has."

Hill-Murray head coach Pete Bercich says the team has rallied for Zach. In the moment after it happened he gathered them to pray, and they said they wanted to continue playing the game in Zach's honor. Since then they've taken what could have been a traumatizing moment and made it one of generosity.

"We've had players on the student council put together the bake sale," he said. "They're putting together a volleyball tournament Saturday. They visited the Zarembinskis' house and did some clean-up. They were on me and constantly asking, 'What can be done? What can we do to help?'"

Zach's father Dan Zarembinski says they want other families facing brain injuries to stay positive.

"Hoping this can be a learning (experience) for other people to see what Zach has done and that they have hope with loved ones of theirs that go through the same thing."