Pronounced dead, man takes ‘miraculous’ turn
Doctors can’t explain why 21-year-old Zack Dunlap recovered from accident
Zack Dunlap doesn’t remember much from the day he died, but he does remember hearing a doctor declare him brain-dead. And he remembers being incredibly ticked off.
“I’m glad I couldn’t get up and do what I wanted to do,” the strapping Oklahoman said in a soft drawl in an exclusive appearance on Monday on TODAY in New York.
And what would he have done, asked TODAY’s Natalie Morales, who has followed Dunlap’s miraculous recovery from a Nov. 17 ATV accident that left him with a catastrophic head injury.
“Probably would have been a broken window they went out,” the 21-year-old said with a hint of a smile.
He’s been through months of rehab, and he’s getting better, but he still has issues with memory and emotional issues.
“I feel pretty good, but this is hard,” he said of all the excitement of being in New York and on national television. He is getting better, he agreed, but said the process is frustrating.
“I just ain’t got the patience,” he said quietly.
He was accompanied by his parents, Pam and Doug Dunlap, and his younger sister, Kacy, who are more than happy to wait while he recovers.
“He’s been doing amazingly well,” Pam Dunlap said. “He does still have a lot of memory issues. It just takes a long time for the brain to heal after such a traumatic injury. It may take a year or more before he completely recovers. But that’s OK. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. We’re just thankful and blessed that we have him here.”
‘There was no activity’
Doctors have no explanation for why Dunlap is alive. He had been riding his souped-up ATV with some friends on that fateful Saturday, less than a week before Thanksgiving. They had participated in a parade that morning, popping wheelies and impressing the crowd, and then they had gone out riding on their machines. He did not wear a helmet.
Dunlap fell behind his friends on a highway just outside of Davidson, Okla., not far from his home in the ranching town of Frederick and near the Texas border. He gunned his machine to catch up, doing another wheelie on the back wheels. When he dropped the front wheels back to the pavement, he saw that he was going to crash into a friend’s machine that had stopped a short way up the road.
Dunlap tried to swerve, but flipped his machine and went flying, smashing headfirst and facedown on the asphalt. He remained there motionless, unresponsive to his friends, who quickly called 911.
Taken first to a local hospital, he was airlifted 50 miles away to United Regional Healthcare System in Wichita Falls, Texas, where there was a trauma unit that might be able to treat the severe damage he had done to his brain. But 36 hours after the accident, doctors performed a PET scan of his brain and informed his parents, along with other family members who had gathered to keep vigil at the hospital, that there was no blood flowing to Zack’s brain; he was brain-dead.
Doctors showed the scan to Zack’s parents, and, Doug Dunlap told Morales, “There was no activity at all. No blood flow at all.”
‘They said he was brain-dead’
The devastated parents were faced with the horrible decision of either keeping their son hooked up to life-support equipment or pulling the plug and letting his body follow his brain into death.
“We didn’t want him as a vegetable,” Doug Dunlap said. “We didn’t know what he was going to be like. They said he was brain-dead and there would be no life, so we were preparing ourselves.”