Zack’s Story

Hoops for Hope

To benefit The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central Ohio

In the fall of 1996 my son Zack, who was 15 years old at the time, had surgery to remove a growth from his side.  A biopsy revealed the growth to be a tumor which was a rare childhood cancer called neurofibrosarcoma.  A second surgery removed a large area of muscle and tissue from around the tumor and testing of that sample showed it to be cancer free.  Zack recovered and went on to play basketball and baseball for Olentangy High School that year.

In the fall of 1997 the cancer returned in his spine and skull.  The doctors told us that Zack was one of about 1300 patients in recorded history to have this cancer.  A five year study of the cancer had been completed a year or two before and there were no survivors.  Zack had 2 years at the most to live.

He was put into an aggressive experimental treatment program at Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio.  He began the first of 7 rounds of chemotherapy using 8 different drugs.  Due to the aggressive nature of the treatment he had to drop out of school and was tutored at home for his entire junior year.  In the spring of 1998 Zack was found to be cancer free, the first neurofibrosarcoma patient in history to be in remission.  In May of 1998 he underwent total body radiation and a stem cell transplant which we were hopeful would cure him.  The total body radiation had destroyed his esophagus to the point that he was unable to ingest substantial amounts of food and certainly nothing that he really wanted to eat.

In the fall of 1998 as Zack prepared to return to school for his senior year they found a tumor growing in his upper arm bone.  At this point Zack’s immune system had been severely compromised by the other treatments and he was not strong enough to endure the treatment that he needed to fight the returning cancer.  By Thanksgiving he had to leave school again as the cancer had spread to his lungs and was affecting his ability to breathe normally.  By Christmas he was in the hospital having blood and fluid removed from his chest cavity to help him breathe.  He went home on Christmas day with an oxygen machine and was under the care of a home care nurse to give him transfusions of blood and platelets.  On the evening of January 4th he went into a coma and early on the morning of January 5th, 1999 at the age of 17 he died.

I tell this story so that you might be able to see how the Make-A-Wish Foundation was able to weave their caring and loving offering into the tragedy of the story that you just read.

In the fall of 1997 Zack returned from on one of his many in hospital tests during a chemo treatment to find some papers on his tray table telling us all about the Make-A-Wish Foundation and how they would love to grant Zack a wish.  When their representative followed up we thanked her for the offer but told her that we didn’t think that Zack was one of “those kids” and that we felt that they should concentrate their efforts on the children who really needed their help.  After some gentle urging by our oncology doctor and the Make-A-Wish representative Zack agreed to meet with her and another lady for lunch at a restaurant in Dublin.  At that meeting they asked my son “The Question” and with that the “Power of a Wish” was set into motion.  Not being interested in a trip or meeting a celebrity Zack asked to restore an old car.  The wish was approved after some deliberation by the folks at Make-A-Wish and Zack began his search for an old car to restore.  This was a welcome diversion from the rigors of his treatment schedule.  Finally with the help of a team of experts put together by the Make-A-Wish Foundation we found a suitable candidate, and we purchased a very used 1976 Corvette.

Zack and his brother went to work tearing down the car, again giving him hours of thinking about something else until he reached the point where his system would no longer allow him to be around the dirt and grease.  At that point the Central Ohio community took over; a teacher from the Eastland Career Center took the engine and its many assorted parts and began to rebuild it.  Susan McConnell and her friend Joan Eggspuehler on more than one occasion jumped in a van and went all over Central Ohio on car part runs.  Ritchie a body shop owner from London and Ed Rowe an employee of Joan’s took the car and began a body off restoration in the spare hours that they had between their normal work load and their everyday lives.

Zack and his brothers weren’t setting by and waiting because there were decisions to be made.  They spent hours pouring over books and catalogs to decide on paint color, upholstery, wheels, tires, carpets and even the steering wheel.

As the car neared completion and presentation day drew near it became the responsibility of an army of workers from the Corvette Corner to put on all the finishing touches and they worked tirelessly day and night to meet the deadline.

On November 10, 1998 our family was invited to the Woody Hayes practice facility at The Ohio State University to watch a Buckeye Football practice.  As we were observing the team prepare for the beginning of practice little did Zack know that just outside on a trailer was his beautifully restored Corvette.   Just then the large overhead door to the Woody Hayes facility opened and we all heard the rumble of a bright red Corvette pull onto the practice field driven by Coach John Cooper.  He got out of the car and asked “Where is Zack Halley?”  A smiling Zack walked over to the coach with the entire football team cheering and applauding and shook hands with Coach Cooper as he handed him a signed Buckeye jersey and asked him which players he wanted to sign it as Zack thought and told him the names Joe Germain, Andy Katzenmoyer and Antoine Winfield each one walked over, shook Zack’s hand and signed his jersey.  Coach Cooper handed Zack the keys and told him the take the car for a spin around the football field.  As he got into the car and started it up he drove it around the field as everyone applauded.

For a young Buckeye fan and his family that was a moment we would never forget.

After many pictures and TV interviews Zack and his brother jumped in the Corvette for a trip over to the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café where his extended family and many of his friends were waiting to enjoy pizza, cake and all the videos game they could play in 3 hours.  In addition a representative from the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky was there to present Zack and his brother Nick with black leather Corvette jackets and an engraved brick to be set in the entry pavement at the museum with his name and his license plate “4XLR8N”.

The next two months the weather was absolutely amazing for Ohio in November and December and Zack and his brothers drove that car all over with the tops off.  As I recall it was 70 degrees, sunny and blue skies the Saturday after Thanksgiving at his Halley family dinner and even his grandpa got to take the Vette for a spin.

But for the caring people of the make-A-Wish Foundation our Zack’s last two month with us would not have been as memorable for him and his family and that experience is etched in the hearts of all in his family.  On January 5th, 1999 Zack lost his battle with cancer and went to be with God.

Since that time the video of his story has convinced General Motors to be a national corporate sponsor and has been used in a fund raising holiday promotion to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  Our family will forever be grateful to all of the people in this community and indeed around the country who played a part in granting Zack’s wish.  The smile on his face on that day in November is something we will never forget.

Brad Halley
Hoops for Hope
6580 Columbus Pike
Lewis Center, OH 43035

(614) 402-2070

Brad@Hoops4Hope.org