OKLAHOMA CITY – A pilot slides a mask over 7-year-old Zac Yanch’s smiling face.
“Can you breathe?” the pilot asks as he makes adjustments in the cockpit of a large C-17 Globemaster aircraft.
For one day, the 97th air mobility wing at Altus Airforce base set everything aside to make Zac a pilot for a day.
And not just a pilot. Zac handled some weapons at the target range, watched trained german shepherds run through police drills, and picked up a fire hose with the base firefighting unit.
Zac clambered in and out of planes, now at ease with his prosthetic leg which replaces a limb he lost to cancer.
“I remember the doctor’s words, ‘we don’t know what this is, and I’ve talked to all my colleagues and we don’t know what it is either and we’re going to send you for a biopsy,'” said Zac’s mom, Jordan Yanch.
She and her husband Jeff were closing on a new home in Norman in 2017 when they got that call.
Zac had a limp that was caused by a rare cancer called sclerosing Osteosarcoma.
Jordan remembers saying, “What do we do now, our entire life is packed up and our son has cancer. It was crazy. Our life exploded.”
“We always tell parents that my hope and my plan is that your child is going to grow up and get on with their life,” says pediatric oncologist Dr. Amanda Linz from Jimmy Everest Cancer Center.
For Zac, intense chemotherapy was not enough. He needed surgery to remove his cancerous femur.
“Zach had a rotation-plasty,” explained Dr. Linz.
In an astonishing procedure, his ankle joint was saved, rotated, and reattached to become a working knee joint instead.
“When it works like this, it’s pretty awesome,” says Dr. Linz.
His mother agrees, “Zac is amazing and has this crazy ability to just sort of move forward like nothing has been a blip on his radar.”
Those operations, and ninety-one days in the hospital, plus months of recuperation are behind Zac now. With the help of his team at Jimmy Everest, he’s ready to take on the world.
“He wants to gobble up the world since chemo has been done. He will give you a list of five hundred careers he wants to do and he got to do a lot of them today” says Jordan Yanch. Zac is a hero in a flight suit for the day, ready to taxi off the runway into a bright future.
Sheridan’s Sunshine Foundation partnered with the 75th air mobility wing to make Zac’s “Pilot for a day” experience happen.