A few months before he was even born, Zachary Andrews was already being monitored in Women and Children's Hospital.
"It was overwhelming at first," admits Zach's mom, Allison, of Buffalo, in discussing her pregnancy days as she prepared for a son with spina bifida, a congenital defect where the spinal column is not perfectly closed. "The doctors told us what to expect."
That was a big step in the right direction, as Allison and husband, Mike Andrews, at first could not find out what was wrong from a doctor they were seeing in the Binghamton area, where they used to live.
The couple moved to Buffalo shortly afterward to be with family here, and received much support from Women and Children's Hospital.
To help other children-in-need like Zachary, the 44th annual Variety Kids Telethon kicks off at 7 a.m. next Sunday and runs to 7 p.m. that day on Channel 7.
"I want to help other kids who are sick," exclaims Zachary, now 7, who serves as the 2006 Celebrity Child, looking smart as new shoe-leather in his suit.
And there's much to be celebrated for Zachary.
Born by Caesarean section about a week after St. Patrick's Day, the 19-inch-long infant was immediately swaddled in plastic from chest-to-toe, so his back area wouldn't get infected.
His new home was the incubator, then undergoing surgery by Dr. Dr. Veetai Li during his first hours of life. Dr. Li, hospital chief of pediatric neurosurgery, had already prepared Zachary's young parents for this, the first of several surgeries.
There has been a surgery for each of this boy's years. An implanted shunt drains fluid off his brain.
"He's had difficulties in school -- but he's overcome some of them. It's nothing we can't get around," vows his mom, who has two other kids to care for.
Zachary enthuses over hockey -- "my favorite sport," says the Discovery School student.
This second-grader plays sled hockey, created for disabled kids and grown-ups. Zachary has three seasons of sled hockey under his belt for the Sabres Sled Hockey team, once called the Niagara Challengers. In the off-season, he competes in street hockey using his sled, with 4-year-old brother Tyler and their dad. Zachary is also a video game fan.
He still struggles with problems, like his kidneys, but Zachary, who faces more surgeries, hopes to walk some day.
"He's doing well," the youngster's mom reports. "We were relieved that we didn't have to face something really, really serious."
Attorney Paul Cambria serves as telethon honorary chairman, and Ed Smith is general telethon chairman, for the "Share Our Dreams" benefit telecast live from the Millennium Airport Hotel Buffalo. Last year's telethon raised more than $1.3 million, supporting many children's agencies.
Donations to this year's telethon will help fund Women and Children's Hospital's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Patient Monitoring System.
This system will "more capably track patient conditions," explains Variety's Kenneth E. Scibetta, "and allow Women and Children's Hospital to provide higher quality care to the most critically ill and injured children." These are kids who may have brain tumors, hemorrhaging and septic shock. Scibetta notes Variety's long history of supporting the hospital's critical care units. Its new name is Variety -- the Children's Charity of Buffalo & Western New York. During the Great Depression in Buffalo, Variety provided iron lungs for polio patients, as well as wheelchairs and braces for disabled kids.
Besides Zachary Andrews, viewers will be seeing some familiar faces next weekend, including retired Channel 7 anchorman Irv Weinstein, "Airborne" Eddy Dobosiewicz, "Mr. Food" Art Ginsburg and actress Ilene Graff, who played "mom" Marsha Owens on "Mr. Belvedere."
Also look for singer and actor Clifton Davis from TV's "That's My Mama."
On the Cover: Photo of Zachary Andrews by Harry Scull Jr.