Ballpark's grand opening not just about baseball

Local boy battling leukemia will throw out first pitch

May 1, 2012

 Zach Sprader anticipated stepping onto the new Five Diamonds complex many times this summer.

While he might not get many opportunities this year, he'll get at least one. It will come on Saturday at the grand opening of the Five Diamonds baseball and softball complex when he throws out the ceremonial first pitch.

Having an honor like this is special to him, but sitting on the sidelines is frustrating. That's not what the 11-year-old likes to do. He likes to take on opponents. But this year, he's got another opponent, a much tougher one against leukemia.

The fifth-grader from the Waukesha STEM-Randall Campus Academy learned about his condition in early January. He's had countless rounds of chemotherapy, blood transfusions, blood work and long hospital stays. He's lost his hair and needs a bone-marrow transplant. The visits to Children's Hospital are routine.

His first chemo treatment was Jan. 6. While the family found out that the leukemia was not in his spinal fluid, it's been a long road.

He's had his good days and bad days. There were mornings where he would be sick to his stomach and could barely get out of bed. Other days he had the energy to enjoy some normal things like playing video games with his friends.

On Jan. 17, 13 days into his battle with the cancer, Zach and his family found out his form is T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a rare and difficult form to treat.

"Not the news we wanted, but unfortunately (we) have to move forward," his mother, Lisa Sprader Kukec, wrote in Zach's CaringBridge website ( that keeps friends and family updated on Zach's condition.

One particular stretch in early February was especially rough when Zach was rushed to the Emergency Room after his first phase of treatment due to a fever and constant pain in his legs and arms, which turned out to be caused by an infection. He had a blood transfusion and had trouble straightening his left arm.

An ultrasound found that he had cellulitis, a common skin infection caused by bacteria, and an MRI showed he had an abscess in his left arm, which needed to be drained and the fluid cultured. After returning home, he went right back to the hospital due the infection spreading.

After receiving antibiotics for the infection, Zach continued receiving chemo treatments every day and during this time, a teacher continued to come to his home for some one-on-one teaching, which his mom said he enjoyed very much.

“This kid continues to amaze us with his strength and courage,” his mom wrote.
About two months into his treatment at the end of February, a donor for the transplant was found.

A few weeks later, he would usually be trading his basketball jersey in for his baseball uniform. But he had to continue getting spinal tap chemos and other chemos. And his body was not responding well to it.

On Day 71, March 14, Zach decided he wasn’t going to let his condition stop him from participating in his team’s first scrimmage. However, throwing the ball around and shagging balls for a few minutes proved to be too much for his body to handle.

Nevertheless, after three rounds of chemo a month later, he was back at the park to hit a few baseballsfor a limited time. He also watched his baseball team play in a tournament a couple weeks ago. He celebrated his 11th birthday in early April, which he enjoyed with a few cookouts and parties.

Last week he needed another blood transfusion. But on Tuesday, of this week, the tears of sadness turned to tears of happiness when he stepped onto the field at Miller Park to take batting practice with the training staff.

The baseball theme will continue this week as the Five Diamonds grand opening will also be a fundraiser with all the proceeds going toward Zach's medical bills.

"He's a Blazer and we wanted to do something for him and his family," said Waukesha Blazer President Brad Henes.

Having him participate in the night's festivities was important to Greg Beatty, a Waukesha Blazer parent and coach.

"It's just really sad what happened," Beatty said. "So we're just trying to do whatever we can, because we know he loves to play the game."

In addition to the Blazers, his basketball league held a bake sale for him. His school also helped out by holding a Spirit Week to honor Zach.

One of the days was an Orange/Blue Out Daywhere students wore these colors. Blue is Zach’s favorite color and orange is the official color of leukemia. Another day was called Hats for Zach. The hats read “Team Zach.”

Moreover, several classmates shaved their heads to support him through his chemotherapy and the classes started a penny war to raise money for Zach.

Two of the school’s fifth-grade teachers, Jeff Patzer and Joshua Hoffmann, also pledged to have their heads shaved if the classes met their fundraiser goals, which they did in February.

"The support of Randall and the school district have been outstanding and we appreciate all they have done," Lisa Sprader Kukec said.

Two local organizations have also held blood and bone marrow drives in Zach's name. Zach's aunt and uncle have also set up a foundation on behalf of Zach.

The foundation is set up through Sunset Bank in Waukesha and is named Zach Attack Medical Fund. Donations can be made at Sunset Bank or by mailing them to PO Box 1515, Waukesha, WI, 53187-1515.

And now, as he awaits his bone marrow transplant next week, his Waukesha Blazer family will be coming to his aid.

"He's just a great kid; it's just disappointing that he won't be playing during the summer," said Lisa Kelenic, a Waukesha Blazer parent with three kids in the program. "This goes back to the whole message of why we started the Five Diamonds. It's always been about the kids, but this shows that it's much more than a game."


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