Guillot, Zach Austin, 9, of Seattle, Washington, died on February 7, 2014, from complications of treatments for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), following a lengthy and courageous battle against the disease. Born in Austin, Texas on October 16, 2004 to parents, Jeff and Julie Guillot, Zach lived in Austin until July 2009, when his family moved to Dallas. In Dallas, Zach attended the Temple Emanu-El Early Childhood Education Center, the da Vinci School, and Parish Episcopal School, and was much beloved by his teachers and classmates. Outside of class, he was an avid fan of Batman and Dr. Who; Legos; videogames; action, science fiction, and horror films; rollercoasters and other thrill rides; and instrumental movie soundtrack music. He also enjoyed dressing up as Batman, Spider-man, Harry Potter, and other heroes; driving his fully-operable, child-sized "Batmobile;" collecting shark-related toys and memorabilia; engaging in swordfights and light-saber duels with all willing "opponents," including his nurses and other hospital caregivers; videoconferencing with friends and family; shopping at Target with his "Poppie" and "Granna;" and "administering" his own Propofol infusions prior to surgical procedures.
Zach was diagnosed with AML in February 2010, and treated initially at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, where intensive chemotherapy, and a matched bone marrow transplant from his younger brother, Jake, led to an apparently complete remission. However, in November 2011, Zach's leukemia returned. Further treatments in Dallas, including multiple rounds of chemotherapy, total body irradiation, and a second bone marrow transplant, made possible by an unrelated, matched, anonymous donor, produced a second remission in February 2012, but Zach's leukemia relapsed again in late-September 2012, and the entire family, including Zach's paternal grandparents, moved to Memphis, for treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, whose physicians had been monitoring Zach's case from a distance. When the available options at St. Jude were exhausted, Zach was accepted for investigational treatments at Seattle Children's Hospital in Washington, and the family relocated again, to Seattle, in late-December 2012, in pursuit of a cure. There, Zach's leukemia was held in check for almost a year, though he did not achieve a complete remission, and on January 15, 2014, he underwent a historic, third stem cell transplant, from two, unrelated cord blood donors, in hopes of obtaining a permanent remission, or additional time to take advantage of future treatments, currently under development. Zach's personal battle is now over, but the greater battles he initiated and inspired against childhood leukemia continue.
Zach's four-year struggle with AML, and his family's quest for a cure, were lovingly chronicled in detail by his mother, Julie, initially through a private CaringBridge Journal, and later, on a public Facebook page, entitled, "ZachAttacksLeukemia," which garnered almost 13,000 fans, many of whom followed Zach's progress on a daily basis, offering inspirational messages, prayers, photographs, artwork, and videos, demonstrating their love and support. Zach's story also inspired countless blood and bone marrow registration drives in Texas and elsewhere, leading to the addition of more than 2000 donors to the registry of DKMS -- the world's largest bone marrow donor center. Following one such drive in Dallas, more than 20 leukemia patients were able to locate potentially life-saving, matched bone marrow donors. Zach also served as an official Ambassador for Wipe-Out Kids Cancer, a non-profit, Dallas-based organization, dedicated to raising awareness and funding for pediatric cancer research, and was Grand Marshall of the 2010 Children's Medical Center Holiday Parade.
In January 2013, Zach's plight received worldwide attention, when he accepted a telephone call from Christian Bale, the actor who portrayed Batman in the "Dark Night" film series, and the two exchanged Batman-related stories. A video of this conversation, posted on YouTube, quickly amassed over 350,000 "hits," and Mr. Bale sent a care package to Zach the next week, comprised of a Batman backpack, stuffed with Batman-related memorabilia. Zach also spoke with Adam West, who played Batman in the 1960's television series, and other celebrities also showered him with spirit-lifting experiences and support. In early-2013, accomplished songwriter, Levi Ware, performed a private concert for Zach, in his Seattle hospital room, courtesy of the Melodic Caring Project (MCP), and two subsequent public MCP-sponsored concerts were dedicated to Zach, and streamed to his hospital room over the Internet. In February 2013, legendary rock drummer, Michael Shrieve, visited with Zach, and performed for him privately, using a leather couch and various household items as percussive instruments. And, Zach was a special guest at Cowboy Stadium, where he met and spoke with Tony Romo; was invited on-field by the Seattle Mariners, where he met with several players in the dugout; attended the Dr. Who 50th Anniversary Party in Seattle; and, was an honored guest at Warner Bros. Studios in California, where he was permitted to ride in the Batmobile "tumbler" used in the Christian Bale Batman films - a privilege never previously accorded to anyone not associated with official Batman productions.
Zach's zest for life, and the undying love and devotion of his family, allowed him to pack many other memorable experiences into his few short years, despite the suffering and disadvantages caused by his illness. He visited Caribbean islands with his grandparents; spent summers in San Diego with his parents, siblings, and grandparents, enjoying time on the beach, and trips to Disneyland and Legoland; traveled to New York, where he saw multiple Broadway plays, toured Times Square, and shopped for toys at FAO Schwartz; created works of art at the Chihuly glass factory, by invitation of Seattle glass guru Dale Chihuly; went skiing in Vail, Colorado and snow tubing in Snoqualmie, Washington; took fishing trips to Florida, the Texas Gulf Coast, and Washington's Puget Sound; attended the Texas State and San Diego County Fairs; visited major amusement parks, including Six Flags Over Texas, Knotts Berry Farm, Disney World, and Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure; went indoor sky-diving, earning his free-fall certificate; and, in early-2011, was granted his "wish" by the Make-A-Wish Foundation - a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, at Universal Orlando Resort, where he received an authentic, custom-made wand. His life would seem too short to many, but those who were touched by him understood that the quality of existence far exceeds the quantity of time in which one lives. His favorite saying was, "This is the best day ever," and those who spent those days with him would invariably have to agree. His life is one to be celebrated, and he will always remain in our hearts.
Zach is survived by his loving parents, Jeff and Julie Guillot of Seattle, Washington; younger siblings Jake Harris Guillot, and Natalie Grey Guillot, also of Seattle; paternal grandparents George ("Poppie") Guillot and Linda ("Granna") Guillot, of Dallas, Texas; maternal grandparents Stan ("Bucky") Archer and Judy ("Mimi") Archer of Frisco, Texas; uncle Greg Guillot of Dallas, Texas; uncle Stephen Archer, of Frisco, Texas, his wife, Jen Archer, and their children, first cousins, Ben and Noah Archer, also of Frisco, Texas.
A memorial service, celebrating Zach's remarkable life, will be held on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 2:00 p.m., at Temple Emanu-El, 8500 Hillcrest Ave., Dallas, Texas. A party honoring Zach will immediately follow, and children are encouraged to wear costumes and capes, as Zach would have wanted.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Be Strong Fight On Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Zach's family, in conjunction with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, dedicated to helping other patients and families fighting childhood leukemia, through education and research for the development of therapeutic treatments for childhood AML: Be Strong. Fight On! - Zach Guillot Fund for AML Immunotherapy c/o Nicole S. Pratapas Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center 1100 Fairview Avenue N., J5-200 P.O. Box 19024 Seattle, WA 98109-1024
Published by Dallas Morning News on Feb. 12, 2014.