Patricia Ortmann said her son Zachary wasn’t expected to live long enough to graduate from Lindenhurst High School in June 2010.
In February of his senior year, Zachary Ortmann -- whose mother said was almost never sick as a child -- was admitted to the hospital one night after experiencing sudden, shooting pains in his back and hips. When doctors performed an MRI, they found cancer cells, Patricia Ortmann said, and Zachary was diagnosed with leukemia.
For the next six months, Zachary Ortmann underwent intensive chemotherapy and was in and out of the emergency room at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola.
“I don’t think they expected him to be alive at the end of the week,” she said about a time in April 2010 when her son was particularly sick. “He wasn’t supposed to be alive for his graduation. I can say that now, in retrospect, but going through it, we never thought about it.”
She said over the past year, the Lindenhurst community has rallied around her family, providing constant support and companionship for Zachary.
“There was always someone in my house every day for a year,” she said. “He was never alone.”
That support has never stopped, she said, even as her son has regained his health. Zachary, 18, is undergoing maintenance rounds of chemotherapy but is basically healthy, she said.
In December, the Ortmann family will travel to Australia so Zachary can snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef -- a wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but made possible in part by the students at Lindenhurst High School.
Zachary Ortmann’s name had been submitted to the foundation by Winthrop staff, and when his wish was accepted, the high school did its best to make sure it would be granted.
Physical education teacher Mike Cheskay said the school has been raising money for Make-A-Wish for the past five years, but this year they asked the foundation if they could funnel their contribution directly to Ortmann.
“When we saw his name on the list, we thought, ‘This couldn’t work out any better,’” he said. “All the kids knew who he was.”
Between the school’s Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, students donated to the cause by purchasing ornaments provided by the foundation that were hung around the gymnasium, Cheskay said.
The students raised $1,718 for Ortmann, and the rest of the trip will be subsidized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“I’ve been teaching here for 13 years, and I’ve never seen our kids step up and give like that,” Cheskay said, adding that some students made $20 and $50 donations.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Ortmann said about the school stepping in. “I was very happy.”
Patricia Ortmann said it has been a humbling experience to be chosen by the Make-A Wish Foundation and to have the students contribute to what could have been her son’s last wish.
“He’s been able to move forward because of these kids around him,” she said. “It’s because of this community that he’s alive today.”