GREENVILLE— Zach Coppess was diagnosed with aortic stenosis and micro -valve regurgitation at six months of age.
He and his family were interviewed in the local daily newspaper for the first time by yours truly when he was two years old, and, it was because of him and his condition that the family decided to save pull tabs from aluminum cans to give to Dayton Children’s Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House, where they stayed during his hospitalization.
The young boy called them Zachy’s tabs. Restaurants, bars and neighbors collected them for him.
His mother, Michelle, estimates there have been 6 million donated.
“A man showed us how to place them in five-gallon buckets, measure and multiply to get a total on them,” she said. “In recent years, the number of tabs has fallen off because our family has moved, we stopped taking them and began drinking from bottles.
However, they are more than willing to take pull tabs from aluminum cans again, because they go there once a year.
Because of this gesture, the family still receives invitations to Ronald McDonald House functions.
Zach was 7 when he underwent his first open-heart surgery, which they said is very rare. That was in 2009.
“He had played baseball the whole summer and they didn’t know how he did it,” Michelle said. “One doctor said he couldn’t play anymore; that he was lucky to be here. He could have had a heart attack.”
According to Michelle, the doctor said he couldn’t even put a pin through the hole in his heart; it was 100 percent shut.
“A day or two later, I had to take him to Children’s and he was put into ICU with water around his heart,” she said. “He was there for two days but we were there a total of five days.”
At age 14, her only child and son needed another open-heart surgery.
“I was real tired,” recalled Zach, who was playing football and basketball at Arcanum at the time.
“Dr. (Michael) Ralston said he needed an MRI and they put dye behind his heart,” Michelle noted. “Zach also had to do a stress test. First time they did the test, it was bad. When he went to surgery in Columbus in July, they said the surgery would last four to five hours. We were given three options: repair the valve, get a donor valve or a mechanical valve. Four hours into the surgery, the valve burst and he was in surgery for more than 10 hours. They put his pulmonary valve in his aortic valve. That surgery was done in July 2016.”
The valve, she said, is expected to last up to seven years and his “is still doing great.”
His doctor was and still is Dr. Ralston…until 2024, when he will be released from his care the day before his 23rd birthday.
Another interesting segment to this surgery was that Zach had an out-of-body experience.
“Before surgery, he asked if he would see his great-grandmother and great-grandfather, Joe and Treva Supinger,” Michelle said. “I told him to pray and ask Jesus.”
Zach recalled that event: “When I was under, I ended up seeing both of them. I saw vibrant colors….brighter and more pretty. We walked around. They talked to me but I couldn’t talk to them until I told them I didn’t want to go back, They held my hand and I was in the middle of them. They looked like their older selves.”
“His great-grandmother told Zach he must go back,” Michelle said. “When Zach woke up, he instantly said, ‘I want to go back and cried. I told him, ‘No, not yet. No Zach, God has a plan for you.’ That made us cry. I was jealous he got to speak with them.”
Zach even had a tattoo made in memory of his great-grandparents on his right arm.
These days, Zach is doing well.
“I work out everyday, play basketball, lost 70 pounds to play golf,” said the 6-foot-4 young man, who will celebrate his 21st birthday on Dec. 19.
The 2020 Greenville High School graduate is studying digital photography online with Arizona State.
He also collected shoes and resells clothes and shoes on Ebay.
“He is an avid shoe collector,” said Michelle, who is a pari-professional at Greenville High School and has an independent driver’s license, taking care of five local ladies with transportation needs. “Our family loves to travel and one time Dan, Zach and I went to Kool Kit shoe store in California. While there Zach saw Faxe Rug, a YouTuber, and Zach was in one of his YouTubes from that visit.”
Zach’s other hobbies are comprised of taking photos, cooking, hanging out with friends and watching sports, being a fan of the Browns, Ohio State and Cincinnati Reds.
He also likes going to the Valley Church in Piqua, and has joined a life group at the church.
“He’s single and available,” pointed out his maternal grandfather.
Living in their home in Greenville are his mother, Michelle, and her husband, David Hiestand, and Michelle’s parents, Sonja and Dan Coppess.
“My mom and dad helped me raise Zach,” said Michelle, who noted that her son’s biological father died when Zach was a week old. “Zach has a special bond with his grandmother.”
Zach’s first surgery was done at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and his second at Nationwide in Columbus. “They didn’t keep him long at Nationwide,” said Michelle, who also reported that her son also underwent ACL surgery over a year ago. “He was playing semi-pro football with the Seminoles when the ACL tore, and now he only plays baseball and basketball.”
What are his future plans? “I would like to live in Arizona,” he timidly responded. “I would like to work for National Geographic.”