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Scored a 31 on his college ACT test

Cancer is sneaky. But Zach’s doctors were sneakier.

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 awe- some. 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, 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,” 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.”

“At first I was cautious,” Dr. Foreman said. “But now, Zach is almost two years out from that treatment and he remains with no evidence of tumors at all. This is truly the result of the power of personalized medicine.”

“Zach’s story absolutely would never have happened without the Morgan Adams Foundation,” said Dr. Foreman. “Their funding has made our chip program possible and that program allows us to compare our patient’s tumors to hundreds of tumors in a huge database and that is essentially what found the answer for Zach.”

“In the past, with the type of recurrence Zach had, we would have said that the patient simply will not survive,” said Dr. Foreman. “We can stop saying that now.”

Today, Zach is a healthy, amazing high school student who excels in studies and sports and has few side effects from the rigorous treatments he has endured. In fact, Zach recently scored a 31 on his college ACT test. “I’d say his brain is working pretty good,” Dr. Foreman laughed, “We are all very proud of him.”

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