Humans of Parkland: Zach Watts

Photo provided by Zach Watts

Photo provided by Zach Watts

Emma Gray


Zach Watts is a student at Parkland pursuing education to eventually get his master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics, to eventually become a prosthetist and orthotist.

A prosthetist and orthotist is a healthcare worker who creates custom devices, called prosthesis and orthoses, which replace or aid the movement of limbs.

Watts is originally from Homer, a small town 20 miles from Champaign. When he was 19 years old he moved away from home for school.

“I moved to Joliet for two years and got my associate degree in prosthetics and orthotics,” he said.

He came to Parkland to get additional credits before transferring to a four-year institution to get his bachelor’s, required for master’s programs.

“I’m thinking engineering physics, with a minor in chemistry perhaps,” he said. 

Watts did not originally plan on going to college, let alone pursuing a master’s degree. Instead he dreamed of flying.

“I was a pretty smart kid all throughout school. My parents started homeschooling me [in] sixth grade and they homeschooled me through high school. All throughout that time I thought I wanted to go to the Air Force and eventually fly planes, which I think would be the coolest thing…I really wanted to fly planes, [but] then I cut my fingers off three days before I was [going to sign] the paperwork.”

He lost two of his fingers while working to make part of a beehive at his job.

“I’ve worked at a bee farm for, it’ll be seven or so years now,” he said. “At the bee farm I used to run table saws and build bee boxes…I was working on one of the bottom boards, running the pieces of pine through the table saw…The table saw hit a knot in the pine and it popped up. It was about an eight-foot-long piece and then whenever it popped up, [it] landed back on the saw and shot back into my gut and bent me over. My hand actually landed on the table saw…Table saws tend to cut through some fingers whenever that happens.”

He was taken to two different hospitals via ambulance. He says it took three days before his adrenaline went down enough from him to feel the need for pain-reducing drugs.

“I remember it very vividly. I remember that entire day that it happened. It wasn’t that painful for me to be honest,” he said. “I didn’t get any morphine that day.”

Now Watts can look back on the event with a few chuckles, but at the time he says he was worried about how the injury would affect his ability to fly planes, if he was getting blood on the carpet, and what his mom would say.

“My thumb actually went off into the other room because it flung away,” he said. “I was like, ‘weird.’ Well, the first thing that went through my head was, ‘I hope this doesn’t affect the Air Force.’”

The injury did prevent him from joining the Air Force, so instead he decided to use what had happened to him to help others. He says he was initially mad about what happened until his family went to Haiti for a mission a couple months later.

While he was in Haiti, Watts was still going through physical therapy for his hand. In Haiti, his family toured a prosthetics lab.

“I thought, ‘Well, shoot, that’d be the coolest thing ever if I’d get to help people who have the same disability that I do.’ Granted I don’t view it as a disability, because mine isn’t as [debilitating] as some of the others, like losing a leg,” he said. “I just think it’s really cool how I can have the ability to connect to people who have lost a limb as opposed to somebody who hasn’t.”

He says he feels he can connect better to patients who feel isolated because he’s been through the same feelings they have.

Eventually he would like to own his own prosthetics business. He wants to be an innovator in the field, possibly inventing new prosthetics, and hopes a background in engineering will help him look at the mechanics of different prosthetics and how they interact with the patients’ motions.

Another dream Watts has is to own a restaurant, which he dreams will be attached to the prosthetics lab with a large window between them so customers could watch the process of creating a prosthesis or orthoses while eating.