CLEVELAND - MEDINA, Ohio -- Medical problems began for Robert Ziol before he was born, leaving the 43 year-old to believe he was a man made up of broken pieces and left over parts.
Ziol and his twin brother suffered from a condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, a serious disorder occurring in identical twins and higher order multiples who share a placenta.
“It altered the amount of blood flow between the two babies in the placenta and apparently there was not enough blood for both of us,” says Ziol. “My brother was stillborn.”
Ziol survived, but suffered a stroke, was anemic and needed a blood transfusion shortly after birth. His father wanted to donate blood but was advised to stay by the side of Ziol’s grieving mother.
Unfortunately for the family, the blood Ziol received was tainted with Hepatitis C. Ziol was unaware of the problem until 1991 when he tried to donate blood his senior year in high school.
“It was insult to injury,” says Ziol. “I got a letter from the Red Cross back to my house and it said, ‘You are no longer eligible to give blood. Please do not donate anymore. There’s an undetermined Hepatitis strain in your blood system.’”
The tainted blood wasn’t the only obstacle Ziol faced.
“I have two different size feet. I have a size 13 on the right and 10 and a half on the left. And then I had paralysis on the left side of my body. For me the concept of being normal was always difficult.”
Ziol spent most of his life trying to hide his disabilities from others, including his wife, Janet. But Rob soon reached a breaking point.
The Turning Point
“I got so obese I was getting sick. I was missing work. I was miserable. I was depressed. My wife, Janet, would say to me, “When are you going to stop?”
“He felt like he had a choice,” says Janet Ziol. “He could see the two roads and he could see where he was gonna go if he stayed on this path and he knew he didn’t like it.”
Janet, who is a nurse, encouraged Ziol to change his diet and turn to exercise instead of searching for more medication to cure his problems. Determined to prove his wife wrong, Ziol began running behind her back to show that exercise wouldn’t make him feel better. In the end Rob was the one who was mistaken.
“I put on my pair of shoes and it just became easy and I could breathe and I just felt alive,” says Ziol. “Every time I run, every time I jog or take that next step, it’s the process of healing. … The process of overcoming and transformation, to actually be transformed into what I was supposed to be on the face of the earth.”
Ziol has since completed two full marathons and multiple 5K races and half marathons.
The weight dropped and his confidence increased.
“He finally sees himself the way so many others always saw him,” says Janet. “And he finally has the self-confidence and self-esteem that he should have always had.
“My disability, it’s like I love it,” says Ziol. “It’s what makes me different.”
Ziol also received a new drug to treat the Hepatitis C within his blood stream. He says he is now free and clear of the virus.
Helping Others Overcome Obstacles
Almost 40 years ago, physical therapy at MetroHealth helped Ziol learn to walk. Now, he wants to give back. In August, MetroHealth introduced Rob to 17-year-old Michael Fazio of Wellington.
Michael suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motor vehicle accident in February of this year.
Doctors told Michael's mother, Edith, the teen could be in a coma for two years and may never walk or talk again. But in just seven months, Michael has regained his speech and movement.
He’s also set goals.
“In the spring I plan to do like a marathon where you walk and donate it to whatever charity there is for this injury (TBI),” Michael says.
Michael, who is undergoing weekly therapy sessions at MetroHealth, now wants to pursue physical therapy as a career.
Ziol, who currently works at Cleveland State University, surprised Michael at one of his sessions with gifts to encourage him to achieve his goals. The gifts included an invitation for a personal tour of the physical therapy program at CSU and workout gear from Rise Fitness and Second Sole of Medina. Ziol also arranged for Michael to receive a free pair of Brooks running shoes to help Michael train for the race he wants to complete.
MetroHealth has asked Ziol to be the chairperson of the Hy-5 5K benefit in May 2017. Ziol is hoping Michael will co-chair the race with him as a way to carry on their #Rising legacy together.