2017 HONOREE

Zeke Crozier

Hard working, ambitious, young and full of promise. These are all words that could be used to describe Zeke Crozier, a Crew Chief in the U.S. Army at the time of his traumatic brain injury (TBI).

With an incredible work ethic, Zeke was accustomed to working multiple jobs at once from an early age. At one time, Zeke was working around the clock holding positions at Walmart, Men’s Warehouse and in construction. Then in June 2004, Zeke felt the call of duty and enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve his country. For several years, Zeke was based in Gardner, KS, while also going to school at Johnson County Community College. Then in March 2011, Zeke was deployed to Afghanistan to help in the war effort. Zeke said good bye to his beautiful girlfriend (who is now his wife), Lacy, and his young children. Then Zeke left home unknowing of the life-altering path that lie ahead.

Zeke was well suited for his role in the military. He was dependable, steadfast, brave and a natural humanitarian. He excelled in his duties and quickly climbed from a mechanic in the war (working on helicopters) to a Crew Chief. In his job climb to the next position of Flight Engineer, Zeke was actually in his final flight requirement on the night his accident occurred.

Zeke had only been in Afghanistan for 41 days when his Chinook helicopter violently crashed. Even in the haze after the accident, Zeke recalls vivid details from this night. Zeke and his flight crew were assigned to moving troops, and the conditions were dangerous. The night sky was the purest of black, and the winds were howling. The terrain below the helicopter was rough and rocky, and the men were attempting to land in a small landing zone circled by trees. The helicopter had carefully passed over the trees, and Zeke announced it was clear to come down. Then as the crew was preparing to land, engine #2 suddenly stopped working. So instead of a gradual descent, the helicopter dropped approximately 150 feet crashing into the ground.

During the crash, Zeke’s head was thrust violently back and forth knocking him unconscious and causing his traumatic brain injury. Zeke was trapped in the back of the helicopter lying flat on the floor when ground troops rushed in to save the men on board. Zeke was missed at first and was the last soldier to be rescued from the destruction. The Military flew Zeke from Afghanistan to Germany for immediate medical attention. Zeke was put in a medically-induced coma for two weeks with a bolt placed in his head to monitor pressure within the brain. He was also treated with intubation to help control breathing. At the time, doctors warned Zeke’s loved ones that he may not survive, and even if he did survive, he would likely suffer from severe disabilities for the rest of his life. Doctors were unsure if Zeke would walk or even talk again.

Shortly after his time in Germany, Zeke was moved to a military hospital in Maryland for continued treatment. His last destination was a VA medical hospital in Minnesota, a leading center in rehabilitation for victims of brain injury. In Zeke’s awakening days, he recalls a lot of pain and confusion. His right hand was completely shattered from the accident, but this injury was ignored at first, overshadowed by the brain trauma. At the Minnesota facility, Zeke was stationed close to the front desk with an alarm on his bed because he was considered a high fall-risk. During the start of his stay, Zeke couldn’t even swallow on his own. He was forced to re-learn everything he ever knew. He was medicated around the clock and recalls feeling muddled and terrified often. Fortunately, Zeke received tremendous care from the medical staff, and his devoted girlfriend, Lacy, was able to live in free housing across the street. Shortly after Zeke's accident, Lacy and Zeke made the decision to get married and were wed during Zeke's stay in Minnesota. Zeke will tell you, Lacy was a constant source of support as well as motivation in his recovery efforts.

At the start of Zeke’s recovery, he faced a wide range of obstacles. Language didn’t make sense to him at first. His left side was not in balance with his right side. He constantly struggled with the left side of his face drooping and the muscles on the left side of his body sagging. He needed a wheel chair to get places. Zeke had a very difficult time adjusting to the constant support needed from the medical staff. He did not feel comfortable seeking help from others and always felt the desire to reciprocate. Until this point, Zeke was accustomed to being the helper instead of needing the help. With his ambition and drive, Zeke worked to reach his goals in recovery as quickly as possible. He regained his ability to speak and eventually worked his way out of the wheel chair to the walker.

Then in the midst of Zeke’s healing process, he experienced further devastation upon hearing the news of a massive crash in Afghanistan. The flight of Extortion 17 was shot down on August 6, 2011, making it the deadliest helicopter incident in the history of U.S. Special Operations. 38 men lost their lives on this night, and Zeke had personally served with three of these men. In fact, one of the pilots of Extortion 17 (who survived the helicopter crash with Zeke only a few weeks prior) was supposed to return to the United States to visit Zeke in the next week or so. Zeke’s loyalty and devotion to these men are the reasons he traveled to attend their memorial services even while he was still unstable and in the trenches of his own recovery.

In late October 2011, Zeke was released from the rehabilitation center in Minnesota, and he returned home to his children for the first time in months. His rehabilitation continued with full-time rehab and then eventually part-time rehab. The adjustment to civilian life was not easy. Zeke struggled with his retirement from the military as it did not happen on his terms and timeline, and it took him a while to find new purpose. Piling medical bills, battles with insurance and a decreased salary were also challenges for Zeke and his family. On the plus side, Zeke appreciated all the extra time he received with his three sons, Michijah, Chase and Gunnar. Being with his children every day brought him joy and renewed meaning. He received tremendous support from his family and the community around him. Also with the help of advocates, such as congressman, Kevin Yoder, Zeke was finally and deservedly awarded the Purple Heart, a U.S. military decoration granted to those wounded or killed in combat while serving with the U.S. military.

Zeke recalls a turning point in his new life after he saw a picture of himself taken by one of his sons. Zeke was asleep in the picture and slouched over. His physical appearance had changed since the accident, and the picture reflected a man Zeke barely recognized. Zeke had gained a lot of weight from the lack of exercise and the medications. The meds also made Zeke feel lethargic and zombie-like. Furthermore, Zeke had fallen into an unhealthy pattern of self-wallow and complaining. So from this point on, Zeke was motivated to do better. He adapted a new mentality convincing himself there was no other choice. Zeke got off the pain medicine and started exercising regularly. He was driven to become as self-sufficient as possible. Zeke does not want to live with the label of “disabled veteran.” He’s not going to allow a limit or a cap on what he can achieve in life.

Zeke has also developed a profound awareness of others around him also suffering from disabilities. When he enters a store, for example, Zeke will look for people who might be struggling. If there’s any way he can help someone else—even with a small gesture, such as reaching an item off the store shelf, Zeke is eager to help. Zeke also discovered a passion for artwork and started his own business called, Handy Cappin’ LLC, which specializes in custom design using bottle caps. Each piece is unique and specifically designed for his customer. (Zeke proudly offers a 10% military discount to active and retired military members, veterans and spouses.) His artwork is now on display in several local businesses, and he donates many pieces to charity. His work brings him happiness and allows Zeke to serve in a different way.

Also exciting for Zeke’s future, Zeke was recently chosen by Designing Spaces’ Military Makeover as the next recipient of a home renovation. The award-winning home improvement show is hosted by R. Lee Ermey, an actor best known for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the war movie, Full Metal Jacket. The show will be aired on the Lifetime television network after the renovation is complete.

Despite the challenges that Zeke still faces, he approaches life with resilience, determination, gratitude and a great sense of humor. He continues to show progress and growth in his recovery efforts. Hard working, ambitious, young and full of promise… these are all words that can STILL be used to describe Zeke Crozier today.

Reaching Out

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ABOUT BIAKS

A Nonprofit 

Brain Injury Association of Kansas and Greater Kansas City (BIAKS) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for those affected by brain injury.

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AMY THOMPSON

ABOUT AMY

The first Amy Thompson Run was organized on Memorial Day 1988 in honor of a remarkable young woman whose courage and forgiveness and will to live gave hope to all.

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2017 HONOREE

Zeke Crozier

Hard working, ambitious, young and full of promise. These are all words that could be used to describe Zeke Crozier, a Crew Chief in the U.S. Army at the time of his traumatic brain injury (TBI).

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Are you interested in being a sponsor and participating in this great event? Please contact Bev Jacobson, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 913-754-8883, ext. 2 for details.

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