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Welcome back, Zak

Published on Monday, Febuary 3, 2020

Zak Holobowicz returns to school

BCSD photo / Monica Kreber: Zak Holobowicz makes his grand entrance back to school on Feb. 3.

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When he came to school Monday morning, third-grader Zak Holobowicz probably was not expecting the excitement that awaited him beyond Foxbank Elementary’s front doors.

Unbeknownst to him as he checked in with his parents, Nichole and Lance, in the front office, Foxbank’s students, faculty and staff were waiting for him in the main hall, armed with posters that read “Welcome back, Zak,” "Zak Attack is back" and “Our Boykin Zak is back”.

The celebration did not stop there; even more students lined the steps and upstairs hallway, waiting to whip out pom-poms to celebrate Zak’s return to school.

Students did not hold back as Zak made his way through Foxbank’s halls in style; the cheers could be heard through the whole school. He was joined by his teacher, Joanna Tucker, as well as the school’s Boykin Spaniel mascot, who high-fived students along the way.

While it was definitely an event worth celebrating, it was an emotional one as well, particularly for his mom and dad, who dabbed happy tears as they followed their son to his classroom through a maze of enthusiastic students.

“Phenomenal”, “awesome” – two of the words his parents used to describe how they felt after Zak’s extended leave from school, during which his mom donated one of her kidneys to save his life.

“He’s going to come home and tell us all about it…and he’s going to expect it every day, so I hope you guys are prepared,” Nichole said with a laugh.

Zak Holobowicz returns to school

BCSD photo / Monica Kreber

Zak’s journey

Zak was born with a condition that took years for him to receive a diagnosis; his kidneys never fully formed.

“Basically his kidney operated at 17 percent of what it should be operating at,” Lance said.

Nichole said nobody ever told the family what was actually wrong; Zak frequently used the bathroom, including during the night, leading him to be tired during the day and have trouble focusing in class.

Eventually the family was referred to an endocrinologist at SMP in North Charleston. Many blood tests later, in August, the family learned his kidney function was at 17 percent, and he was in stage 5, end-stage renal failure.

The family was quickly referred to a nephrologist, who did more tests and got Zak on growth hormone shots as well as extra vitamins. He also had to do iron infusions.

It was a lot, but Zak did well. Nichole said he would enjoy playing with Legos with child life specialists at MUSC.

The family learned Nichole was almost a perfect match to give Zak a kidney – something she was certain about because she actually dreamt of it.

Donating a kidney is something Nichole said she would have done for any of her kids; she and Lance are also parents to 12-year-old Corbin, a former Foxbank Elementary student. Donors are typically someone the patient does not even know; for a parent to be able to match with their child is remarkable.

“I knew it, but when they told me…tears. Just tears. You can’t explain that kind of relief,” she said, adding, “I believe everybody is put on this earth’s for a purpose, and I did not know what mine was until January 2, when I saved my kid’s life.”

He was in school up until Christmas break. He was able to celebrate Christmas with his family before checking into the hospital Dec. 26 to start dialysis. His surgery was scheduled for early January.

The family has documented Zak’s journey to show him his progress and remind him how far he has come. Nichole returned home shortly after her procedure, noting it was better to heal at home in order to avoid infection at the hospital.

Zak, meanwhile, was treated like a superstar at the hospital.

“He ended up with so much fan mail, I am still working on thank-you cards,” Nichole said.

Zak Holobowicz returns to school

BCSD photo / Monica Kreber

Looking ahead

Down the road, Zak may need another kidney. The family is hopeful that by then, advances in science will allow Zak to get an artificial kidney and therefore he will not have to wait for a donor.

“It’ll be awesome when that comes,” Nichole said.

Nichole said Zak actually did not want to come back to school because he was able to do his school work at home. He was released from the hospital five days after surgery. Last Thursday he was cleared to come back to school.

“He’s actually been progressing faster than anticipated, which is amazing,” she said.

Lance added they were told it would take about a week before Zak would be able to walk up a set of stairs by himself, but “within 10 to 15 minutes of being home he ran up…to make sure his toys were still in his room,” he said.

The Holobowicz family members are now big advocates for organ donations. Nichole encouraged parents to be mindful if they have a smaller child who might be frequently using the bathroom.

“Just get them checked out,” she said. “It could be something as simple as you need a growth hormone shot, or your kid could be headed down the same road as Zak.”

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Zak Holobowicz returns to school

BCSD photo / Monica Kreber

Monica Kreber