Photo: WJAC TV News
“No matter what happens, I’m going to get through it. Just to focus on the good things that’s going to happen," said Jakob Zernick, an eleven-year-old 6th grader at Central Cambria Middle School in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. This is a pretty profound statement for anyone to make but it’s an especially profound statement for a sixth grader to utter. However, Jakob is no ordinary eleven year old. This boy has an incredibly huge heart. Jakob, along with the help of his family, is in the early steps of starting his nonprofit, Seeds for Needs.
Deciding to start a nonprofit
So how did this young boy decide building a nonprofit was what he wanted to do with his time when other kids his age are more concerned with friends, sports, video games and school? A few years ago when Jakob was eight, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He had been feeling a tremendous amount of pain in his stomach and it took some time and many tests for the doctors to understand what was exactly going on with him. “The hardest part was not knowing what he had and not knowing what it was that was causing him all this pain,” said Jody Zernick, Jakob’s Dad.
These tests eventually brought him to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh where he stayed for some time and got all of the incredible care that he needed. But it was a very scary journey for such a young boy to go through. When asked what the scariest part was for Jakob, he replied that it was "Probably not knowing what’s going to happen, you know, if I’m going to get shots or something.”
Crohn’s is something that no person should have to endure, but it seems especially cruel that an eight year old should have to deal with these health problems. Complications may occur outside the gastrointestinal tract and can include anemia, skin rashes, arthritis and inflammation of the eyes as well as tiredness. Bowel obstruction also commonly occurs in Crohn’s and those with the disease are at greater risk of bowel cancer too. While the cause of Crohn's disease is unknown, it is believed to be due to a combination of environmental, immune, and bacterial factors in genetically susceptible individuals. It results in a chronic inflammatory disorder, in which the body's immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract.
Jakob’s progress since diagnosis has been good, and Jakob remains thankful
“Knock on wood, he's been very well since he started his infusion treatments which we go to every 8 weeks we have to go to Children's. He gets 2 hour infusions through IV and he takes his daily pills,” Jakob’s Dad, Jody Zernick, said.
Especially since he is still receiving bimonthly treatments and daily medications himself, how has Jakob’s illness led him to wanting to take care of other sick children? During his hospital stay and during his infusion treatments, Jakob says he is so thankful for his doctors and the staff at Children’s Hospital. “They'd try to bring comfort and get Jakob's mind off of (his illness and treatments) so whether it was a blanket or games to play with while he was having his infusion. That was really what helped Jakob,” said Jakob’s Mom, Nicole Zernick, said.
Around Christmas of 2016, Jakob started feeling much better and asked his parents for an indoor greenhouse and soon after that he decided that he wanted a garden. He got to work in the Spring and started growing plants from seeds. “Our friends and family helped build the garden and he started planting all the vegetables and decided he was going to sell them at the end of the road," said Jakob’s mother, Nicole.
Jakob plants anything, from peppers to broccoli
Jakob loves planting and growing things and it’s actually a lot of work. When the weather is nice he spends about two hours a day watering and weeding the beds where he has planted all kinds of vegetables from peppers and lots of tomatoes to broccoli. His plans are to continue growing as many vegetables as he can and giving back to the hospital and their youngest patients, who gave him so much.
Jakob sells his vegetables to all his neighbors and uses half of the money he makes to buy blankets and board games for the other children at the hospital. On one of his most recent trips to Children’s Hospital for an infusion he brought thirty blankets and several board games to give to the other young patients there. “It makes me feel great, like awesome,” Jakob has said with a laugh.
Jakob also loves science, playing sports, and acting in plays. He also enjoys spending time with his adorable little sister, Kaitlyn, who looks at him with such love and an almost tangible pride, while he speaks of how happy helping other children makes him.
Thankfully, this brave and endlessly positive little boy who has endured so much at such a young age has come a very long way in his health from his eight year old self. Jakob continues to have even bigger plans for the future and he has his bigger more extended garden all mapped out. The rest of his even bigger plans of course include the nonprofit Jacob wants to start which is “Called ‘Seeds for Needs’ and every year we'll give money to Children's Hospital,” in addition to the blankets and games Jakob has said. Just like his plants which keep thriving, so will Jakob.
Brightening kids’ futures
After every long, hard day of work for Jacob, he will make other kids’ days even brighter with the hope that they will pass this service and giving mentality on to others creating a ripple of positivity in the world which has started with him turning his illness into healing for others.