Hope for Zach: Local teen recovers from spinal-cord injury

Zach Den Uyl was involved in a pool accident in Abbotsford on July 11

Rick Hansen

Rick Hansen

Zach Den Uyl, 16, and three buddies were hanging out at a friend’s house on the evening of July 11 in Abbotsford when the group decided to go for a swim in the above-ground pool on the property.

They raced outside, and Zach, determined to be the first one in the water, quickly climbed the ladder and dove head-first into the pool, not more than about four feet deep.

His friends could hear the thud of his head as it hit the bottom of the pool with the full weight of his body.

Zach floated face-down to the surface, and he was not moving.

His friends immediately jumped into the water and turned him over.

Zach was still conscious and thanked them for saving him. He had tried to turn himself over, but he couldn’t move his limbs.

His friends pulled him to the side of the pool and out of the water, while one ran into the home to get help.

Now, five weeks later, Zach remains in hospital, facing an uncertain future, but one with hope and strong support from family and friends.

A trust fund has been set up to help with his potential future needs, whatever those may be.

The accident shattered the front side of Zach’s C6 vertebra, the sixth of seven cervical vertebrae extending from the skull and down the spine.

He has been in Vancouver General Hospital ever since and had surgery in which a metal plate connected his C5 and C7 vertebrae and a “cage” packed with bone graft was inserted in between.

The idea is that, as the bone grows, it forms a solid bond around the cage, holding the vertebrae together.

This takes time and the outcome is uncertain from patient to patient.

Zach’s dad, Peter Den Uyl (in photo at left) of Abbotsford, said the surgeon told the family that Zach’s injury was “very serious” and the bruising he has on his spinal cord could take anywhere from 18 months to four or five years to heal.

Zach, who turns 17 on Sept. 2, could gain more and more movement over time and eventually walk again, or he could be a quadriplegic – paralyzed in all four limbs – and need care for the rest of his life, the family was told.

“We’re in a ‘hurry up and wait’ situation,” Peter said.

Since the accident, Zach has progressed to being able to sit up in a wheelchair. He has some mobility in his upper arms and rotation in his wrists, but is otherwise unable to move.

He has a tracheotomy tube in place to help with his breathing, which prohibited him from speaking, but that was replaced on Wednesday to one without a cuff, allowing him to speak again for the first time since the accident.

Until then, he was communicating by moving his lips, which his mom, Heidi Derrick of Mission (in photo below with Zach and his brother Adrian), had become adept at interpreting.

Heidi, who is not currently working, spends every day with Zach, and Peter, a full-time graphic designer and installer at CM Signs in Abbotsford, visits every second day. Zach also has two younger brothers, ages 14 and six.

Heidi and Peter, who are divorced, work hard to stay positive, especially when Zach has bad days and dwells on the accident.

“We tell him, ‘We’re here. You’re alive, which is already a huge deal. We’re not having to figure out our lives without you,’” Peter said.

“He’s been unbelievably strong … I don’t know if I’d be able to function how he’s been functioning.”

Heidi said, for the most part, Zach is remaining positive and upbeat. He has drawn strength and inspiration from Rick Hansen, whose book “Man in Motion,” she has been reading to him in hospital.

Further buoying Zach’s spirits was a hospital visit from Hansen on Wednesday afternoon.

“It was such a blessing to have Zach be able to ask him questions and to hear stories about some of Rick’s friends who have the same sort of injury, and how they’ve overcome so many obstacles,” Peter said.

Heidi and Peter said they hope that Zach’s story serves as a reminder to others to be careful in their recreational pursuits and the unexpected results they can have. Before his accident, Zach enjoyed activities such as skateboarding, BMX riding and snowboarding.

“We both thought he would have an injury from one of those (activities), not from going swimming in a friend’s backyard,” Heidi said.

A Facebook page, “Hope for Zach Den Uyl,” posts regular updates about Zach’s progress. Donations for the trust fund can be made at the BMO branch on Mt. Lehman Road, using the transit number 07490 and account number 3984-395.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

ds
Mission potbellied-pig sanctuary mourns death of beloved old hog named Roscoe

14-year-old, 800-pound pig was ‘quite a character,’ said owner Janice Gillett

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission schools

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA holds a webinar on Jan. 26 titled Staying Safe Online.
‘Staying Safe Online’ is subject of Fraser Valley webinar

Session on Tuesday, Jan. 26 is hosted by non-profit Circles of Support and Accountability

A door is boarded up following a fire at Pho Xuan restaurant on Yale Road on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
UPDATE: Early morning fire at vacant Chilliwack restaurant was deliberately set

Fire erupted north of the Yale Road overpass at Pho Xuan, which was permanently closed

The 4th Annual Fraser Valley Marches for Women March is virtual this year, and this file shot depicts speeches from the first march from Jan. 20, 2018. (Jennifer Feinberg/Chilliwack Progress file)
Video on women’s march emphasizes that violence against women increasing

Key messages from Chilliwack women leaders as the FV Marches for Women March goes virtual

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Post-COVID-19 recovery clinic in Surrey, at Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre. (Photo: Fraser Health)
Surrey to host 1 of 3 post-COVID recovery clinics in Lower Mainland

The Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre is located at 9750 140th Street

Competitors make their way through the course at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships, which was hosted by Abbotsford in 2019. (File photo)
Abbotsford to host 2023 Canadian Cross Country Championships

Clearbrook Park last hosted the event in 2019, Ottawa hosting 2021 and 2022 races

Most Read