Wagner leaves this weekend for treatment in Arizona


Community raises nearly $40,000 for teen with rare condition

This weekend, exactly a year after graduating from Powell High School, Zach Wagner will travel to Arizona, where he will undergo brain surgery to treat a rare medical condition.

For the 19-year-old, the surgery culminates years of testing, wondering, worrying and chasing an elusive diagnosis to determine why he was suffering from seizure episodes.

Though he has experienced symptoms for years, it wasn’t until this spring that Wagner finally was diagnosed with a rare benign brain tumor called hypothalamic hamartoma.

“The unknown is always scary, but when you find out you have a tumor, that’s pretty scary, too,” Wagner said.

The extremely rare condition causes seizures and other complications. Wagner will undergo testing in the coming weeks and surgery in June at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz., which is one of the few places in the world where the condition is being researched and treatment is provided.

Earlier this month, local residents donated nearly $40,000 at a fundraiser for Zach Wagner’s Project Hope, with proceeds going toward his medical and travel expenses.

The community’s outpouring of support amazed Wagner.

“I’m so blessed to be in this community,” he said. “And I’m thankful to everyone who helped donate and who was there.”

“The support that everyone has given him has helped him keep positive,” said Becky Wagner, his mother. Supporters packed The Commons for the May 5 benefit, and Wagner personally greeted many as they arrived.

“With all this support, how can I not have a smile on my face and a positive outlook?” Wagner said as he thanked attendees as dinner was winding down.

“Plus,” he deadpanned, “I have laughing seizures.”

During the fundraiser, Jim Beavers of Powell paid around $1,700 for a football signed by the Green Bay Packers players and coaches — the winning team of this year’s Super Bowl. The Packers donated the autographed football for the fundraiser, and in turn, Beavers gave it to Wagner.

Beavers knew he wanted to buy it for Wagner, even as the auction price rose and rose. Beavers said there was an abundance of generosity at the fundraiser, with auctioned pies selling for hundreds of dollars.

“It was a great benefit,” Beavers said. “Everyone pitched in and did what they could.”

It was the perfect gift for Wagner, a devoted Packers fan.

“His room is green and yellow,” Becky said. “Packer green and Packer yellow.”

Beavers also is an avid Packers fan, holding a share of stock in the publicly-owned NFL team, and wanted to do something for Wagner.

“I’ve suffered the loss of two boys ... I can’t do anything for them, but I thought maybe we can help Zach with his future,” Beavers said.

Wagner hopes to study physical therapy or health care administration and began at Northwest College, but had to take a medical absence from school. Currently, Wagner works as a therapy and wellness tech at Gottsche Rehab in Powell. Wagner played football for the Powell High School Panthers and now helps coach the team.

The brain tumor affects Wagner’s cognitive thinking and short-term memory, and he is looking forward to being able to process things like he used to.

“It’d be nice to get back to normal and get on with life,” he said.

Doctors told him recovery could take two weeks or 10 years — “But who knows?” Wagner asked.

“I’m excited to get things fixed,” he said, maintaining his positive outlook as he faces surgery. “I’m just ready to go.”