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'Zach Attack' gifts a tangible way to remember a son

Forest Grove mom honors child who died by donating baskets to hospital

COURTESY PHOTOS - Zach West died three years ago in Minnesota from a rare degenerative disease. The day before Mother’s Day three years ago, Rachelle Chrismer’s son died.

His death came after the nine years Chrismer’s family spent in and out of hospitals — on birthdays, holidays, weekends and many Mother’s Days.

Her son, Zach West, suffered from Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy, a diagnosis he didn’t receive until almost eight years had passed from the time Zach started getting sick at age three. The disease is rare and affects the nervous system, eventually leaving kids unable to speak or move freely.

When Zach passed away at age 12, Chrismer was devastated. Her grief hits particularly hard around Mother’s Day, an annual reminder of the ultimate loss she feels as a mom. “This is an awful week for me,” said Chrismer. “Every week is an awful week for me but this one especially.”

That’s why the Forest Grove woman collected donations of gift cards, toiletries, blankets, makeup and treats from her Pacific Crossing neighborhood, Sonrise Church community, her daughter’s class at Dilley Elementary School, her Girl Scout troop and Marquis Forest Grove. She uses the goodies to make 40 gift baskets, which she gave to mothers of sick children at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland last Friday. Marquis Forest Grove residents made 40 fleece blankets for Chrismer to include and her daughter’s Dilley elementary class made cards. Her Girl Scout troop also helped out with the cards and donated cookies.

“What can we do that will bring some good out of this?” Chrismer started to wonder two years ago when she still lived in Minneapolis, Minn., where she started putting the baskets together. “It’s just bringing joy out of something heartbreaking.”

After moving to Forest Grove in July 2015, Chrismer decided to keep the project going here in Oregon. With the help of friends, the “Zach Attack” baskets are heading to children’s hospitals in Oregon, Minnesota, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado this year. Chrismer is hoping the gift baskets will spread throughout the whole country.

“I hope the baskets show these mothers they’re not alone; they’re being thought about,” said Chrismer, who’s hoping she’ll get enough donations to give baskets to every mother at the hospital next year.

She’s also hoping that when someone hears the phrase “Zach Attack,” they’ll know it stands for random acts of kindness.

Zach was “adorable and beautiful,” Chrismer said. “I love that people can still get to know my son.”