Special-needs high school student beats aggressive tumor; returns home from hospital

Zack Pendley was given a 10% chance of surviving his surgery in February, and now is expected to make a full recovery
Zack Pendley was given a 10% chance of surviving his surgery in February, and now is expected to make a full recovery
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - From not having much of a chance, to a full recovery.

“They told us that he had a small chance to survive it right off the beginning,” Donnie Pendley said, the father of 21-year-old Zack Pendley.

The outlook was bleak for Zack. The special-needs high school student from Maryville had a large, and potentially deadly tumor in his abdomen, part of which wrapped around his spine.

“The tumor had actually grown to almost the size of a small pumpkin,” Pendley said about his son.

Pendley said they found a surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who was willing to perform the risky surgery. Plus, a charity flew Zack to Houston on a private plane with medical staff on board, to make sure he got the proper medical attention.

Doctors gave Zack about a 10% chance just to survive the surgery.

Two surgeries later, spanning about 20 hours total, Zack survived. He spent the last couple of months recovering at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville.

“He went from not having much of a chance to looking the best that he’s looked in years in my opinion,” Pendley said.

Zack was discharged from Fort Sanders earlier this week, and is on the road to a full recovery.

He spent his first day out of the hospital with his mom, and shopped at Target.

In the meantime, Heritage High School, Zack’s school, has been rallying around the family. They’ve been selling Zack Strong t-shirts. They also hosted a color run last weekend, which was organized by the students.

“Certainly doing something to support Zack and how awesome he is and supporting his family is going to do nothing but benefit him and our school community,” Jed West said, Heritage High School Principal.

Event organizers said they raised about $1,000 from the color run. All of it, will go to the Pendley family.

Pendley said it will be a long road to a full recovery. He said the tumor caused Zack to lose function of his legs. But since the tumor was removed, Pendley said Zack has been able to move his legs again.