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Zoey Zalusky

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Zoey Zalusky

Place of birth: Stillwater, Oklahoma

Zoey was born happy and healthy on February 6, 1996 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She had an older sister and a little brother would come along soon. She grew up in a lot of different places – we relocated for her dad’s job quite often but everywhere we went, Zo quickly made friends and her vibrant, enthusiastic personality brought a smile to everyone’s face. She was “the boss” and could be challenging and exhausting but at the same time completely adorable. Nothing ever made me happier that to see her with a look of joy and contentment on her face or to hear her say, “love you, momma.” She loved the beach and her dachshund puppies, tater tots, Caesar salad and shopping.For the most part, Zoey was a healthy, active child. The only thing we ever brought up at her yearly checkups were her “picky” eating habits. In her teens, Zo started to develop what we referred to as a sensitive stomach. She would start to feel nauseous and within a couple of hours would vomit once or twice and then feel almost completely normal right away. This would happen sometimes once a week and then not happen again for 6 months or longer. We always tried to figure out what had made her sick. We thought she overate some things that she really liked. We considered food allergies or sensitivities but things never seemed serious enough to actually eliminate any foods from her diet to try to narrow the cause down. She continued to grow normally, and live a busy, active life. She even swam on the varsity swim team in high school and maintained excellent grades throughout. She never gave us any reason to worry, she didn’t stay out all night, didn’t drink or try drugs.In the fall of 2014, Zoey moved to Arizona to study nursing at the University of Arizona at Tucson. Her busy life got even busier as she juggled her school work and various sorority activities. She adored being in Sigma Kappa – it was a built in family for her away from home. They truly were like sisters to her. She continued to have bouts of nausea and vomiting and seemed unusually tired and anxious at times.  Freshman year went by quickly and she went back to Tucson for her sophomore year in August of 2015. She had been back for less than a month when she had a serious incident where her friends had to take her to the local emergency room. She had gone to sleep one Friday at 5 pm and didn’t wake up until 9 the next morning. She phoned me and was very upset, crying and talking about missing an important assignment. She seemed very confused and half-asleep still so I told her to call me back in a few hours so we could talk about it. Later that evening, her friends called, saying that there was something really wrong and they were taking her to the hospital. She was completely disoriented, wasn’t making sense when she talked and her texts were all jumbled. At the hospital, they ran a lot of tests and nothing showed up on the results. Her alcohol and drug screen were negative. They said she was dehydrated and they gave her I.V. fluids and released her. The only small sign that anything was wrong was an elevated liver enzyme result on her blood test. They advised her to follow up with her doctor in 2 weeks to have the test re-done. She had her blood tested twice and finally a month after the incident, the results came back normal. We were excited and hoped this meant that whatever was wrong has cleared itself up.In the following weeks, she remained “not quite right”. Her stomach was still bothering her – she vomited frequently and could not seem to keep much of anything down for days at a time and then she would be better for a week or so. She was also very tired and when she came home to visit in October and again at Thanksgiving, she seemed irritable and just wanted to sleep.On December 13, Zoey called and was upset and crying. She didn’t feel well again. She couldn’t keep any food down and had a pain in her upper abdomen that made it hard for her to sit up for any length of time. She also thought that some of her classmates had been looking at her strangely when she talked to them earlier. It was kind of like she wasn’t making sense again. She would be flying home on December 15 for the Christmas break. I told her that I would get her a doctor’s appointment for the next morning and that she had to go and try to find out what was wrong. I said to try to eat a plain peanut butter sandwich and see if she could keep it down and not to worry about studying too much. All of her roommates had already left for the break. She told me she loved me. I should have sent her to the emergency room. I texted her a few hours later to see if she had kept the food down but there was no answer. I hoped that she was getting some sleep.In the morning, at 9 am Tucson time, I phoned the doctor and made an appointment for her at 11 am. I texted and called her several times to tell her what time the appointment was at but there was no answer. I was very worried and sent her older sister who was also living on campus over to check on her. There was no answer at the door and when she had the manager let her in, they found Zo unconscious in her bathroom with vomit on her. They immediately suspected alcohol poisoning and rushed her to Banner University Hospital.Zoey never woke up. We spent 10 days in the hospital with her and her condition continued to deteriorate. They had neurologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists – every kind of team tried to determine what was causing this.  They screened her for meningitis and infectious diseases, she had MRI’s, ultrasounds, x-rays and so many blood and urine tests. Every needle that went into her made me cry. Zoey had always hated needles. I held her and did her fingernails and toenails. We talked to her and sang to her and I played her music and favorite T.V. shows for her. I washed and dried her hair and put her favorite t-shirts on – I knew she would hate the hospital gowns. She had another MRI on December 19 which showed irreversible brain damage and they told us that our sweet girl would never be the same, would never even wake up. We made the decision to donate her organs and on December 24, 2015, we said good-bye. Christmas was always Zo’s favorite holiday.A few weeks later, we received a call from the Arizona donor network. The recipient of one of Zoey’s kidneys had died soon after the transplant. They had done some more testing and discovered that Zoey had actually had a very rare genetic disorder which had unknowingly been passed on with her kidney. Instantly, the thought came to me that if we hadn’t made the decision to donate her organs, we would never have discovered this!

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