Zachary’s Winning Hand

Some might say that life has dealt Trezevant resident Zachary Butler a bad hand.

Diagnosed with a rare debilitating disease as a child and confined to a wheelchair since his late teens, now 33-year-old Butler has recently been informed by doctors that he only has about six months left to live.

But this exceptional young man isn’t ready to lay his cards down and walk away from the table quite yet.

In fact, he is currently embarking on a brand new adventure and the fulfillment of a longtime dream.

Though a partnership between The Dream Foundation, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes to adults with terminal illnesses, and the private biotechnology corporation, Genentech, Butler has been granted an all-expense-paid, four-day, three-night trip to Las Vegas, Nevada and a personal meeting with his idol, world famous poker player Daniel Negreanu.

Butler was flown out to Vegas on Monday, along with his mother, Cynthia Mayberry, and his personal caregiver, Barbara Elgamal.

Several representatives from Genentech – including Elvis impersonator Keith Burnett and Liz Hobbs as the Queen of Hearts – visited Butler’s home on January 23 to present him with the tickets for his trip, $200 in spending money, and other gifts and memorabilia.

“This is great,” said Butler regarding his upcoming trip.

He added that he is especially looking forward to meeting Negreanu, who has invited Butler to come and visit with him at his own home in Las Vegas.

• • •

The Diagnosis

As Butler’s mother detailed, the red flag that something was seriously wrong regarding her son’s health came when he suffered a heart attack at the young age of 12.

“He had been sick all his life,” said Mayberry. “But we couldn’t get a doctor to tell us what was wrong.”

On the recommendation of a pediatrician, Butler was finally sent to Vanderbilt Research Hospital, where he was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare genetically-inherited disease that impairs muscle movement and progressively grows more severe over time.

“It’s very rare,” said Mayberry, “About one in 50,000 children are born with it.”

In spite of the diagnosis, Butler made the most of the cards he was dealt.

For a while he played both football and baseball at Gleason High School, and he often went hunting and fishing with friends and relatives.

“I once shot an eight-point buck,” boasted Butler.

But as the disease progressed, he became physically unable to do the things he loved to do, though his mind remained sharp.

“Friedreich’s does not affect the mind, just the body,” Mayberry explained.

• • •

A Passion for Poker

About 10 years ago, Butler discovered something that would become his passion and favorite pastime: the game of poker.

“My ex-girlfriend taught me how to play,” he admitted.

And he’s been playing ever since. He has played in a variety of venues with a lot of different people, and, according to Butler, he once won $800 doing what he loves best.

“My favorite poker game is Texas Hold’em,” he said. “My favorite hand is Jack-Nine.”

These past few years, however, he has done most of his playing online, often several hours a day.

“I usually start at around 5 p.m. and play till bedtime,” said Butler.

According to Butler, the game of poker provides the perfect outlet for his competitive nature.

“And I can do it from a chair,” he added.

Butler said he has also read a lot of books on the game and avidly follows the big poker tournaments on TV.

• • •

Meeting the Master

It was in watching televised tournaments that Butler became a big-time Negreanu fan.

“He is my favorite poker player,” said Butler. “He’s really good, and he knows how to read people.”

He added that he admires Negreanu for more than just his card-playing skill.

“He went from having nothing to being a multi-millionaire,” said Butler. “He’s always cracking jokes at the table, and he’s a really good sport.”

While visiting at Negreanu’s home, Butler said he is hoping to play a few hands with his longtime idol, though he is doubtful about his chances at beating the world-class player.

And while in Vegas, he plans to visit some of the city’s world-famous casinos – particularly Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, which houses the Poker Hall of Fame.

• • •

A God-Send

Though Butler was placed on hospice care two months ago, he has really perked up since learning that his wish had been granted, according to his mother.

“It really gave him a boost,” said Mayberry.

Both Butler and his mother expressed their gratitude to The Dream Foundation and Genentech.

“I’ve never been to Las Vegas before, and we never would have had the money to go on our own,” said Butler. “The Dream Foundation is great.”

Mayberry also said she is grateful that, in the game of poker, her son has found something he loves to do and can do very well.

“His ability to play poker is amazing,” she said. “It has been a real God-send.”

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