Jacob Zalewski was born on February 13th 1983. Born three months premature, Jacob had several complications during birth which included but were not limited to broken ribs, a brain infection, the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck and a weight of less than 1Lb and a half. Doctors gave him no more than a 3% percent chance of survival.
Jacob had been placed for adoption and the doctors even advised his new parents that they should consider adopting another baby. This was an unacceptable solution for Zalewski’s parents. They instead took him to another hospital where Jacob and his parents spent months with around the clock care until Jacob was nursed to health..
It didn’t get any easier for Jacob or his parents. Even with countless doctor visits and evaluations, It wasn’t till the age of 3 that Jacob was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Once the problem was identified. the family sought answers and treatments all around the world.
By the age of 18 Jacob had been to countless hospitals, doctors, and physical therapists. He had also been through various exercise programs, medical treatments, tests and had more than 5 surgeries with the goal of trying to get Jacob on his feet or at the very least get him as independent as possible. They had no success. After years of continual efforts from the family and the exact same results, doctors started telling Jacob and his parents nothing more could be done for him. After hearing this from virtually every doctor he visited, Jacob started to accept his immobility was permanent.
In 2003, Jacob’s parents took him for an evaluation at TIRR. Jacob says ‘By the time my eval was over and having consulted with both my doctor, Gerard Francisco, and my physical therapist, Heather Heyl, I knew there was something special about them, as that fire in me that had almost died out, started to spark again. I couldn’t wait to start.’ In Jacob’s first two weeks at TIRR, his physician Gerard Francisco told Jacob he had improved an astonishing 20%. Jacob said he had not improved that much in 10 years at other places. Both Jacob and his parents were thrilled.
Jacob improved significantly in multiple areas. He was standing straighter and longer than ever before, His balance had improved so much so that he was able to stand alone for minutes on end. His steps were both straighter and longer than before. His spine, which was curved, was a lot straighter by the end of the treatment. His left hand (which was significantly affected by his CP), was a lot stronger and functional. There were also major improvements in strength, stamina and flexibility.
Jacob was both an inpatient and outpatient at TIRR and was treated for over a year with a few breaks in between. Jacob had multiple therapists both physical and occupational. He had a rigorous workout schedule, which consisted of working 5 days a week from 8:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon.
When he wasn’t working with his many therapists he was practicing assigned homework that they gave him on a daily basis. The therapists were not only working on physically bettering Jacob, they were getting him prepared mentally as well, teaching him about his body and how be become as independent as possible with the least help available. Jacob says during his time at TIRR he developed into the best shape of his life.
Jacob considers his disability a blessing, something God has entrusted him with in order to inspire others. He has always said that if ever put in a position to do some good, he’d do so without hesitation.
Jacob is currently a full-time student at the University of Houston majoring in Communications. His ultimate goal is to become a script writer. He is also the founder of the One Step Closer Foundation (onestepcloserfoundation.org), a non-profit, charitable organization whose goal is to raise awareness and money for research for cerebral palsy. To date his foundation has raised more than $48000 dollars. His ultimate goal is to one day live in a world where Cerebral Palsy is a thing of the past. Jacob says ‘With wonderful people and places like TIRR around to help me with my dream, its only a matter of time before my dream becomes a reality’.