Zachary Lederer Memorial Clinical Research Scholarship

In the summer of 2014 the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation sponsored a research internship at the Texas Children’s Hospital department of Anesthesia and Critical Care Medicine. Samantha Leonard, an undergraduate biology student at Rice University who aspires to become a physician was the first to be awarded the Zachary Lederer Memorial Clinical Research Scholarship. The internship is inspired by Zachary’s win against critical illness as a child. His story became a national inspiration- not because his illness was unique, but his reaction to it certainly was. Zachary believed that his life had a purpose and that he, personally, had a responsibility to lift those around him, especially children who suffered as he did.

At the age of 10, Zachary came out of a coma that nearly took his life. He could not walk, he could not talk, and at first he could not move. In science and medicine we measure survival and quality of life as if we could place a numeric value on our own existence. When Zachary played football in his senior year of high school he captivated us with the passion of his pursuit of the game. He also gave us a humbling lesson.

When we care for children with critical illness our goal is to help them survive and to prevent irreversible injury in the process. We measure our success or failure with brain scans, and with tests of language, coordination and memory. We have no test of passion and fulfillment. Zachary reminded us what a person can do when they survive a critical illness without a debilitating brain injury. In this context, average care is unacceptable. In this context, we cannot accept the boundaries of our medical knowledge, or the slow iterative pace of medical progress. This is the philosophy of the scholarship we designed to honor Zachary.

The scholarship provides a summer living stipend for a two-month internship designed to provide an experience that demonstrates the connection between medical research for pediatric critical illness, the care of children in the critical care unit, and the outcome of that care. During her internship, Samantha worked in the laboratory, performing studies of pediatric cardiopulmonary bypass that seek to minimize brain injury during heart surgery. She also attended rounds in the neonatal and cardiac intensive care units where she saw patients on cardio-pulmonary bypass, some of which suffered injury to the brain after cardio-pulmonary bypass. Further, she worked on a clinical study of the growth and survival of children who had heart surgery, which can be summarized by a simple, bold question: are we doing it the best way it can be done?

Patients with cancer often end up in the ICU, as did Zachary. Many of them require varying degrees of life support- including support with a ventilator or even cardiopulmonary bypass. Management of life support can have a big impact on the functional outcome of patients who survive any critical illness, including cancer.

The internship with Zachary’s name gave Samantha insight into the power of her budding medical and scientific career to change the life of her patients. We anticipate great things from her as she pursues this profession.