From Shriners Hospitals for Children® Patient to Player


Zack ColeBeing selected for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas is a significant achievement for any high school football player. For Zack Cole, of North Carolina, the invitation to the game recognizes much more than athletic skills.

Cole, 18, was born with underdeveloped and joined together fingers and toes. He is also missing his ring finger on his left hand and both of his big toes. The problems were the result of amniotic band syndrome – where the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous, string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and affecting the baby’s development.

From infancy to age 8, Cole had four different surgeries at Shriners Hospitals for Children® — Greenville to improve the function of his feet and hands. To add to the adversity, Cole’s mother was killed in a tragic car accident when he was 3. His uncle and aunt, Shannon and Holly McLaughlin, became his legal guardians.

“Zack’s mom didn’t have a job or insurance, so there is no telling what would have happened if it wasn’t for the Shriners Hospital,” said Mr. McLaughlin. From the doctors, to the nurses, to the volunteers – the whole staff was amazing.”

Early on, Cole’s uncle and aunt promised themselves they would not hold Cole back because of his limitations. Cole began to play football at age 6, and it did not take long for them to realize the speed and athleticism he possessed.

“I turned to a friend of mine and said, ‘he’s going to make the Shrine Bowl one day,’” said Mr. McLaughlin

Cole would go on to make the varsity team his sophomore year of high school. During his first game, he caught a long pass for the school’s first-ever touchdown. Cole’s uncle and his aunt watched from the stands and could not hold back their tears. The touchdown was a symbol of how much Cole had overcome.

Today, Cole is a 6-foot-2, 190-pound high school varsity football wide receiver and safety. In addition to playing football, he is the reigning Boys High Jump Champion in his high school conference.

Cole’s humble attitude and off-the-field accomplishments are even more impressive. He has a 3.75 GPA and plans on majoring in chemistry and pre-med at the post-graduate level. NCAA Division I universities such as Duke, East Carolina, Appalachian State, Elon, and Wofford have expressed interest in recruiting Cole for their football programs.

It’s only fitting that Cole, a former patient, played in the Carolina Shrine Bowl Game on Dec. 18. The proceeds of the game support Shriners Hospitals for Children®.

“I owe everything I have to Shriners Hospitals for Children®,” said Cole. “I’m so proud to give back and help the child who is lying in the same bed I was once in.”