Combat veteran all smiles after dentists step in to help

  • Brown portions color the teeth of U.S. Army veteran Colton Zumach, who is getting new caps free from Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello and Jay DeHart.

      Brown portions color the teeth of U.S. Army veteran Colton Zumach, who is getting new caps free from Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello and Jay DeHart. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello and Jay DeHart have started helping veterans such as Colton Zumach with their dental costs because their benefits do not cover the work needed.

      Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello and Jay DeHart have started helping veterans such as Colton Zumach with their dental costs because their benefits do not cover the work needed. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Stationed at the Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Afghanistan in 2013, Army Spc. E-4 Colton Zumach, who now lives in Rolling Meadows, says the enemy always fired rockets at his base on sunny days.

    Stationed at the Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Afghanistan in 2013, Army Spc. E-4 Colton Zumach, who now lives in Rolling Meadows, says the enemy always fired rockets at his base on sunny days. Courtesy of Colton Zumach

 
 
Updated 11/10/2020 8:59 AM

The blast from a 3,000-pound car bomb at 3:54 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2013, blew a hole in the wall of Forward Operating Base Ghazni, allowing armed insurgents wearing suicide vests to infiltrate the compound.

"Our base got breached," remembers Colton Zumach, who grew up in Cary and Fox River Grove and spent nine months in Afghanistan serving in the U.S. Army. "The attack happened so quick."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Zumach insists that his story pays tribute to the only American killed in that attack -- Army Staff Sgt. Michael H. Ollis, 24, who stepped into the path of an explosion of a suicide bomber's vest to save others and was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military honor.

During his nine months in Afghanistan, Army Spc. E-4 Colton Zumach injured his knees when forced to jump from a wall after his base was attacked by suicide bombers.
During his nine months in Afghanistan, Army Spc. E-4 Colton Zumach injured his knees when forced to jump from a wall after his base was attacked by suicide bombers. - Courtesy of Colton Zumach

Wearing a T-shirt, sneakers and combat pants, Zumach had to leap from an 8-foot wall to avoid grenades, mortars and rockets. "My knee was jacked up," says Zumach, who continued to serve in spite of pain and swelling until he returned home in October 2013. Even with surgery, his injured knee kept Zumach from his dream of joining the Special Forces and earned him an honorable medical discharge in 2016. He still receives therapy, and suffers migraines and other issues from his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now the father of 5-year-old Derek, Zumach, 29, who lives in Rolling Meadows, is getting free help for a problem that grew worse in the military, where he "drank way more coffee" and often had days when he didn't even have a moment to brush his teeth. Four discolored front teeth are getting new porcelain crowns, courtesy of dentists Ernie Costello and Jay DeHart and their team at Costello & DeHart Dental Excellence in Arlington Heights. Zumach still has a few appointments to go before he's ready to smile with his new look.

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With no way to pay for extensive dental work, U.S. Army veteran Colton Zumach is getting free caps and other care from Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello, left, and Jay DeHart.
  With no way to pay for extensive dental work, U.S. Army veteran Colton Zumach is getting free caps and other care from Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello, left, and Jay DeHart. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"Nobody makes a bigger sacrifice," Costello says of veterans. "We're always willing to help somebody out."

A couple of years ago, Costello, 45, and DeHart, 36, started a contest on Facebook to provide free dental service to a deserving veteran. People thought it was a wonderful idea, but when no nominations came in, the dentists donated more than $20,000 in dental work to an existing veteran patient. This year, they got five nominations.

"Well, we can't pick just one," says Costello. So the practice provided free dental work -- including crowns, bridgework, implants and dentures -- for all five veterans.

Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello, right, and Jay DeHart help veterans with their dental costs because their benefits do not cover the work needed.
  Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello, right, and Jay DeHart help veterans with their dental costs because their benefits do not cover the work needed. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It felt so good for me to see the transition and success of our first case. It felt selfish because I felt better than (the patient)," DeHart says. "I'm chasing that feeling."

Costello, who in January was one of six dentists who donated 1,000 free dental procedures to needy people in Mexico, says the veterans are so appreciative.

"We've had patients, grown men, in tears," Costello says. "It's great to see that level of gratitude. We enjoy giving back, so we do it."

Zumach helps with the coaching of his son's T-ball team, where the kids notice his teeth. "Every time I'd smile, they'd say, 'Your teeth are dirty,'" Zumach says. He looked into getting crowns but was told that would cost at least $4,000.

Even with his honorable medical discharge, U.S. Army veteran Colton Zumach of Rolling Meadows doesn't have a way to pay for needed dental work. Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello, left, and Jay DeHart with dental assistant Maddie Pittenger stepped in to provide free caps and other dental care.
  Even with his honorable medical discharge, U.S. Army veteran Colton Zumach of Rolling Meadows doesn't have a way to pay for needed dental work. Arlington Heights dentists Ernie Costello, left, and Jay DeHart with dental assistant Maddie Pittenger stepped in to provide free caps and other dental care. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

"I don't get that much in disability a month, and I've a kid," says Zumach, who recently started working part time for JMC Carper Cleaning/Handyman Services in Fox River Grove. His mother, Kathy, nominated him and explained his story to Costello & DeHart Dental Excellence.

"And these guys came around and said, 'We've got you,'" Zumach says. "I don't think they realize how much they are helping my mental health."

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