Zach Eighmy's Story

Pins dot a map hanging at Morgridge Academy, showing where each student lives. Near the bottom of the wall, beyond the borders of the map, is a pin for Zach Eighmy’s house. Like many students at this free day school for chronically ill children, Zach and his family go above and beyond to attend Morgridge Academy.

Why is attending this school – so many miles from home – important to the 90 students and their families? The children all live with chronic illnesses, and in many cases, were too sick to attend school regularly before finding this special school. At Morgridge Academy, two nurses help the students manage their conditions so they can catch up academically.

Zach, who is in first grade, was born with a rare condition called Partial VATER Syndrome. People with this condition have multiple congenital defects that affect different parts of the body. In Zach’s case, his trachea and esophagus weren’t connected when he was born, leading to a myriad of other health problems. His kidneys are also affected. In addition, the lower lobe of his right lung is dead, meaning that he can’t move mucus out – which can cause serious lung infections.
“Zach’s pulmonologist at Children’s Hospital told us about Morgridge Academy,” Jamie says. “We knew that he wouldn’t be able to go to a regular school.”
He started at Morgridge Academy in Kindergarten, and his health has improved dramatically.

“Before, he was in the ER or hospital 20 times in one year,” Jamie says. “Last year he was only hospitalized one time.”

She attributes this to the nurses at Morgridge Academy. “They see things a normal person wouldn’t see, like when his breathing or swallowing is changing. They catch it before things escalate.”

Jamie is also impressed with the academics and physical education (PE) at the school. “With the small student to teacher ratio, they can really focus on each student. All of the teachers know him, and I can talk to any one of them about him.”

Zach’s favorite class is PE, where swimming and physical therapy have also helped his health. “His endurance has increased, and if he gets sick, he gets better faster,” Jamie says.

Students at Morgridge Academy have PE or physical therapy every day. In the swimming pool at the school, they learn valuable skills about breathing techniques, which help them with running and other exercise.

“Morgridge Academy has been a lifesaver,” says Jamie. “It’s worth it to make the drive.”


Learn more about how you can support patients at National Jewish Health