Friday Success Stories, The Zak Dunlap Story

February 22, 2013 — 4 Comments

When Jamie was in Vanderbilt and we were just starting to learn about brain death, I told the doctor that I had read about a boy named Zak Dunlap from Oklahoma who was involved in a four wheeler accident and was in a coma. Zak was declared brain dead 36 hours after flipping his four wheeler. Zak was an organ donor and the family was making arrangements to honor his request.

It was the one little bit of information I had been able to attain in trying to research brain death during visits in and out with Jamie since we were told he was brain dead.

Here is the interview with his parents,and his cousins who were both nurses.

Someone who had an especially difficult time telling Zack goodbye was his adoring grandmother.

Naomi Blackford: I went in and I prayed right there.

Natalie Morales:What were you asking for?

Naomi Blackford:Just a miracle. That he was too young for God to take him. It wasn’t time.

That’s when everything changed. Divine intervention, said his family, that would be set in motion by Dan and Christy Coffin — Zack’s cousins who were also both nurses.

Christie Coffin: I sat there and I just said to him, “Zack, if you’re in there, if you can hear me, ask God to help you.” And I mean it probably wasn’t 10 minutes later, I started getting this different feeling in my gut. And I thought, “he’s not ready.”

Dan wondered the same thing as he looked at the monitor to study Zack’s vital signs.

Dan Coffin: Things were just looking better to me.

Natalie Morales: What did you do?

Dan Coffin: I grabbed his foot. I pulled my pocket knife out.  And I just scraped from his heel up to his toes.

Dan and Christy said they got the shock of their lives.

Dan Coffin: He jerked his foot plumb out of my hand.

Was it possible? Was Zack still alive?

Brenda Ysasaga: My first emotion was disbelief, of course.

Brenda Ysasaga, one of the nurses in the room at the time, wasn’t buying it, saying it was a reflex not uncommon even from those who are brain dead — and certainly not indicative of life.

Natalie Morales: There was no way for you to think that there was going to be a possibility that he could still be alive?

Brenda Ysasaga: No.

Needing to challenge even his own skepticism, Dan said…

Dan Coffin: “Let’s try this.” So I grabbed Zack’s arm and I stuck my fingernail underneath his fingernail. You know that’s a tender area. And Zack just threw his hand over here. And by now this kind of —

Natalie Morales: So he physically moved his arm–

Dan Coffin: He physically moved his hand away from me, across his body.

Christie Coffin: And I kind of drew up inside myself, you know, and I’m like, “oh my God.”

Brenda Ysasaga: My first reaction was, “I need Dr. Mercer.”

Dr. Mercer: I, indeed, verified that these were purposeful movements.

Purposeful movement — rather than a reflex twitch is a telltale sign of brain activity. Suddenly, four hours after Zack was declared brain dead, his room was bustling. Pam and Doug were out in the hall, getting ready to head back in to spend their final hours with their son, when they were stopped.

Pam Dunlap: And the lady that we’d been talking to from the organ liaison came in and sat down with us. And she said, “everything has stopped.”

Natalie Morales: “Everything has stopped,” meaning…?

Doug Dunlap: Towards the organ donation.

Pam Dunlap: Everything is on hold. And I’m just like, “What is going on?”

Meanwhile, Kacy, who had heard the commotion coming from her brother’s room, peeked in.

Kacy Dunlap: I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” Because, I mean, he moved.

Kacy made a beeline for her grandmother.

Naomi Blackford: I had heard of miracles all my life. But I had never seen a miracle. But I have seen a miracle. I’ve got proof of it.

Pam Dunlap: We went from the lowest possible moment to “Oh, my gosh–“

Doug Dunlap: “Our son’s alive.”

Pam Dunlap: “Our son is alive.”

Natalie Morales: I imagine you’re still though not getting your hopes up because you don’t know.

Pam Dunlap: We were very guarded. We had no idea what we were facing.

Zack’s doctor was even more measured.

Dr. Mercer: I still didn’t think that Zack was going to have a good outcome. I thought, well, OK, well, he’s not brain dead, but he’s pretty close to it.

But the boy who had struggled valiantly to learn to read and write was now fighting hard to hang in. In fact, he did better than that. Five days after Zack “returned to life,” he opened his eyes.

Zak left the hospital 48 days after he was declared brain dead.

Dr. Paul A. Byrne is a neonatologist and a Clinical Professor of Pediatrist at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon, Ohio. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and past-President of the Catholic Medical Association. He is the producer of the film Continuum of Life and the author of Life Support and Death, Beyond Brain Death, and Brain Death is Not Death. Dr. Byrne has presented testimony on life-death issues to eight state legislatures beginning in 1967.

Dr. Byrne, told that Zack’s story should be taken as a warning about the insufficiency of the brain death criteria. “While this story tells the young man hearing them talking about his declaration of brain death, the question is, “is how many of the other organ donors are in a similar situation, that the only thing is that they end up getting their organs?” he said.

“Brain death was concocted, it was made up in order to get organs. It was never based on science” says Dr. Byrne.

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4 responses to Friday Success Stories, The Zak Dunlap Story

  1. Are you Cindy or Wendy? I had read that blog post before and thought it was very good. I am “plowing through again.” There was a case just “settled”. I wish it had gone to trial but of course the OPA wouldn’t want that but it would have been nice case law. Are you familiar with the Jacobs vs CORE case. Filed by his parents on behalf of Gregory? I can send it to you if not, but are you Cindy or Wendy. You can also email me if you prefer.

  2. Thank you for your contact Melissa. Yes, I am interested in the law as it pertains to organ donation but unfortunately there isn’t any because donation is something which is consented to by families for their convenience and oftentimes, their vanity. If we inspect the law though, even as amateurs which I am, we see that it is prohibitively against the law to falsely imprison someone (hospital did that to Zack Dunlap, as your example). It is terribly against the law to torture and cause someone gratuitous agony (done to Zack and others) and explicitly against the law to dissect a living, sentient person and bring about his death (almost done to Zack but done to others in hospitals just as in the dank, dark basements horror stories are full of).

    There is an interesting slew of comments at the end of the article in the following link.

    I hope you can plow through them!

  3. I can’t even imagine the roller coaster of seeing signs of hope and being told that it is nothing. Praying for signs and then having doctors refusal to help. I don’t know if I would ever forgive doctors who did this to my family? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t. What a daily struggle for you all. I’m so sorry that you had to struggle with these terrible circumstances. Jamie was a great guy and I’m so sad the world couldn’t see his full potential and that more people didn’t get to meet him. Your family is never far from my thoughts.

  4. Wow….These doctor’s remind of me of the doc’s at Vanderbilt.

    I’ll never forget the morning when Jamie slowly moved his arm across his chest to touch where the nurse was changing his IV. The doctor (whom didn’t even come into the room after hearing the nurse tell him she felt resistance reminds of “Brenda” from this story. Telling the nurse to inform us it was a “Reflex”. Last time I checked resistance doesn’t coincide with reflex. At least not in my body.

    Unbelievable…Well actually very believable having lived through it.

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