After severe brain injury, Twin Cities prep football player heads home

Prep football player Zachary Zarembinski
In less than three weeks' time, prep football player Zachary Zarembinski recovered from severe brain injury. He spoke about his experience at a press conference Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.
Gabriel Kwan | MPR News

From the moment he collapsed on the football field due to a severe brain injury to his discharge from the hospital, Zachary Zarembinski has been enveloped in a web of love, encouragement and support.

That web, his family said, is a big reason why he's able to return home this week, after spending less than three weeks in hospital care.

Zarembinski, who was playing for the Hill-Murray Pioneers on October 27, suffered an injury that led to a brain bleed on his left side.

According to his family, first responders arrived within minutes, and Zarembinski was taken by ambulance to Regions Hospital.

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"I think it was 42 minutes, they timed it, from when Zach went down to when he was on the operating table," said his mother, Tracy.

Zarembinski's doctor, David Dries, said the rapid response contributed to his safety and speedy recovery.

"People ... on the field knew this was a problem, and started feeding information back to the EMS providers," Dries said.

Minutes after arriving at the hospital, Zarembinski went through a CT scan and was rushed to the operation room. Surgeons opened up a portion of his skull to relieve pressure. Then doctors induced a coma to minimize stimulation to his brain.

Dries described that time as one of tense observation.

"From time to time, we back off on medication ... looked to see what he could do, looked at how he interacts with us," he said. "During this time, he's on a mechanical ventilator."

While doctors monitored Zarembinski's condition, his family and friends rallied around him. His older sister, Becca, created a website where she recorded his condition day by day. His parents set up a GoFundMe page that, to date, has raised more than $50,000 from donors all over the country. His football team finished the game in his honor and organized bake sales and volleyball matches to raise funds for him.

"The team reacted as I would expect a family to react," said Peter Bercich, Zarembinski's coach. "They were on me, constantly asking 'what can be done?' and 'what can we do to help?'"

Zarembinski regained consciousness within days and was breathing without mechanical assistance in a little over a week.

Bercich visited the teen regularly and was amazed at how quickly he was getting better.

"The greatest part, I think, was when he was finally able to talk, he was Zach again," he said. "He's the same kid that I've coached for three years. That part of him, that essence that makes him who he is, it's still there."

On Nov. 13, 17 days after his injury, Zarembinski checked out of the hospital and returned home.

"The first thing I remember is feeling a little [groggy] ... seeing the doctors and my family," he said during a press conference on Friday. "I don't remember much, it's kind of tidbits of sense then. But for the last couple of days, I've been remembering a lot better."

Zarembinski said he'll be returning to school in December, and that he feels well enough to take on schoolwork now. Though doctors cautioned him against contact sports, his passion for sports has not dimmed.

"This spring, I'm considering throwing and track," he said. "Obviously I'm not going to be playing any contact sports, maybe I'll be involved with them, but nothing where I'm actually playing."

Zarembinski also said if he could, he would go back to playing football without hesitation.

"I feel like football is the best sport to build character," he said. "You're not playing for yourself, you're playing for the team."