Chris Heitzman, who pitched for the Lassiter baseball team and also played football for the Trojans prior to his junior year, walked onto the field with the aid of Gary Zingler, a close friend of the Heitzman family. Younger brother Davis, a rising junior wide receiver, handed the football to Chris, who then walked — with help — 10 yards into the end zone.
It’s a sure sign that Chris Heitzman, a 2012 Lassiter graduate, has come a long way in his rehabilitation since he was critically injured in an automobile accident nearly two years ago.
Heitzman, who planned on attending Georgia College and State University on a baseball scholarship, was injured in a two-car collision on Trickum Road in east Cobb. The accident took the life of driver Ryan Aschenbach, while another passenger, Tyler Seaman, escaped with minor injuries.
Heitzman was at Grady Memorial Hospital for more than a month, then spent another four months at the Shepherd Center, recovering from a severe brain injury along with a broken jaw, collar bone, shoulder blade and pelvis. He also had a lacerated kidney and liver, a ruptured bladder and a collapsed lung.
“Chris has been doing a lot of rehab since he had (ligament) surgery a few months ago,” Lassiter football coach Jep Irwin said. “He’s been to a few spring practices, and he used to play quarterback and receiver for us. The Zinglers are close to the Heitzman family, and they come up here with him help get him healthy and back to where he was.”
Having to undergo numerous surgeries, Heitzman was confined to a wheelchair in the first year after the accident, and his rehabilitation was limited. Now that he’s nearly recovered from the internal injuries, he’s ready to get out of the chair.
With his continued rehabilitation, which also includes speech therapy, Heitzman has come a long way over the last year. He can now take steps with assistance, and when he isn’t at therapy, Zingler will bring him to Lassiter a couple of days a week to walk around campus.
“He’s a fighter, he keeps working hard,” Heitzman’s father, Randy, said. “He wants to be on the field doing something, and the biggest thing is that he is making progress. He has yet to reach a plateau.”
In regards of his son’s mental capabilities, Randy said Chris can recognize people and understand what they’re saying, but he struggles to communicate. Zingler’s wife, Cathy, a special education teacher at Lassiter, also helps Chris in improving his communication skills.
“We do a lot of horn therapy,” Cathy Zingler said. “He has to breathe through a series of horns to help him realize that air flow comes from the stomach. We’re also playing cards, and he has to match the kings and the jacks. He knows letters and words, but we feel his mind is trapped inside his body, and it wants to get outside the body.”
Cathy Zingler also helps Heitzman with his handwriting and typing skills, and she said he knows his letters and various words.