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Trezevant man with terminal illness heading to Las Vegas to play pro-poker player

Dreamer Stories | In the News | January 24, 2019

In a few short days, Zachary Butler will board a plane headed to Las Vegas to fulfill a lifelong dream — meeting his all-time favorite poker player. Butler, 33, was recently put in hospice care at his Trezevant home.

He was diagnosed at age 12 with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare genetic neural disease that causes impaired muscle movement that worsens over time. But the disease does not affect a person’s ability to think, and Butler keeps his mind sharp playing poker.

The Dream Foundation, a nonprofit organization that grants the wishes of adults with terminal illnesses, coordinated Butler’s three-day trip to Vegas to meet world famous poker player Daniel Negreanu.

“I can’t really explain it, it was great,” Butler said. “We would have never had the money to go (otherwise). They granted the wish and it’s great.”

Representatives from Genentech, a company that partnered with the Dream Foundation to fund Butler’s wish, delivered t-shirts, cards, a travel kit for Butler’s plane ride and $200 in gambling money to Butler’s home on Wednesday.

Chuk Lamberth, a Genentech representative, said he and his team of other employees are always excited to be a part of delivering the dream. They usually participate in about five wishes each year. Everything they brought to Butler’s house, including dinner for him and his family, is purchased and organized by the employees themselves, separate of Genentech’s donations to the Dream Foundation.

“It’s like Christmas for me, because these people have been on a hell of a journey, a long journey, which is coming to an end,” Lamberth said. Some people ask for something as simple as a clean house. Others want to go to Disney World. Butler chose Las Vegas.

The house was filled with music and people as Butler played a couple of hands with an Elvis impersonator. His mother, Cynthia Mayberry, watched her son won both hands with tears in her eyes.

“He’s on cloud nine,” she said. “It’s been everything to him. He’s even speechless at times and that’s not Zach — Zach’s a big talker.”