Why We Exist

Why We Exist



The Zachary Hebda Foundation exists to serve children like Zachary, supporting them and their families and working tirelessly to find a cure for childhood cancer. Here are some of the stories that inspire us in our mission every day, until no child dies from cancer.

There were times that bad things happened, and they really scared me, but Nurse Emily just made everything funny.



What started as a stomach ache for Ashley Hackman turned into a leukemia diagnosis when she was ten years old. Ashley was born prematurely, spending time in the Johns Hopkins NICU before coming home perfectly healthy. So when Ashley’s parents received her cancer diagnosis, they had already made the decision to transfer her back to Johns Hopkins for treatment.

Ten years to the day after an infant Ashley came home from the NICU, she entered the hospital again as a pediatric oncology patient. Even during such a difficult time, Ashley and her family can talk about the bright side of her treatment. Here’s her story.

Through the whole process at Johns Hopkins, we were always given some hope.



At age nine, Kaitlyn’s family noticed a slight tremor in her right hand. When the tremor worsened, an inoperable tumor was discovered on her brain stem. Her regimented treatment involved taking high doses of steroids to shrink swelling around the tumor. While some patients on steroids become angry and emotional, Kaitlyn became even more jovial and good-tempered. Though she was in good-spirits, the treatment and steroids weren’t effective.

With funding from the Hebda Foundation, she was able to enroll in a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins that was only available in a few other hospitals in the country. Here’s her story.

In life’s worst moments you meet the most amazing people.



Tyler and his twin brother Markus were happy, active two-year-olds until Tyler started losing energy. When his pediatrician noticed Tyler’s skin was abnormally pale, he ordered a blood test. Tyler was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and immediately started treatment with Johns Hopkins.

Tyler’s mother is University of Maryland Women’s Basketball coach Brenda Frese. She intends to use the experience of Tyler’s diagnosis and treatment as a platform to fight childhood cancer. Because of the kind of research and treatment funded by the Hebda Foundation, Tyler and Markus were able to support their mom at the NCAA tournament. Here’s his story.

One of the ways that research has helped is that it has increased the sensitivity of the tests that they use to detect disease…so it has really helped catch my relapses earlier than they would even ten years ago.



1994 - 2017

Diagnosed with leukemia at age 10, Karen suffered through remission and relapse cycles for 13 years. Research funded by the Foundation has continually refined the testing process during the years Karen was ill. Karen went through standard chemotherapy, two bone marrow transplants, and clinical trial treatments, care that kept her going through years of fighting leukemia.

In the midst of her battle with cancer, Karen graduated from Drexel University Summa Cum Laude, attended and was a counselor at Camp Sunrise, and continued to serve others. Karen fought through five relapses, living her life to the fullest the whole time. Here’s her story.


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