August 27, 1999 - September 25, 2021

In 2008, when Zach was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, it was, of course, traumatic news for him and his entire family. But the truth was, it hadn’t spread and there was an 80-85% cure rate, so they approached treatment with faith and hope and Zach did awesome. In fact, he was nearing his five-year survivor date when the unthinkable happened.

Cancer snuck back in.

“Zach was considered a standard risk,” explained his mom Catherine. “When Dr. Foreman told us it had come back; we were all truly shocked.” Dr. Nicholas Forman, Zach’s oncologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, explained to her that there wasn’t a standard of care for this scenario. In fact, it was the first relapse he had seen with a “standard risk” patient throughout his career. But even as new tumors were appearing on Zach’s spine and brain, Dr. Foreman did not give up the search for answers.

“They set up a tentative care plan the next week,” Catherine explained. “It was to buy Dr. Foreman some more time to try to grow some of Zach’s cells, study them, and come up with a customized plan of attack for him.”

“All of this was happening as Zach started his sophomore year of high school” in 2014, Catherine said. “I would pick him up after school, he would do chemotherapy in the car, and then we would head straight for radiation.” That’s when Dr. Foreman came up with a plan. “Zach’s recurrence was widespread down the spine and around the brain,” Dr. Foreman explained. “In the past when we’ve seen this type of metastatic recurrence, it is basically untreatable and the survival rate is about six months.”

Dr. Foreman, Zach, and Zach’s family kept up hope. “Using gene therapy, we were able to chip Zach’s tumor and compare it to hundreds of other patients’ cells. We can look at twenty thousand cells at once and, in Zach’s case, a set of genes stood out. So then we looked at what treatments could target those exact genes and it ended up being two drugs that had never been tried in combination before for this kind of a case.” To everyone’s delight and surprise, the unique combination of drugs caused an immediate and dramatic reaction. “Literally, in three months, every single one of Zach’s tumors had disappeared,” Dr. Foreman said. “Not just reduced in size—they were absolutely gone.”  Despite clean scans in July, Zach continued chemo treatment until December 2015. 

Zach started to get back to normal life as a high schooler, attending Junior Prom, achieving great scores on his SAT and ACT, and getting his driver’s license in August 2016. Unfortunately, Zach relapsed a second time in September and has been on an immunotherapy clinical trial of Indoximod since January 2017. Zach finished his senior year of high school with flying colors despite traveling often for treatment, receiving acceptance letters from several colleges.

Despite being in treatment nearly his entire college career, Zach graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Northern Colorado in May 2021. He earned his science degree with a concentration in geology and a minor in geography. He also received the Academic Scholar award in the Natural Sciences department.

Zach passed away at home surrounded by his loving family on September 25, 2021.