When you know you don’t have a lot of time, you prioritize.
That’s what Zachi Telesha did. In August 2008, age 7, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, youth was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Telesha set himself a series of personal goals, and he died this week, at age 12, a published comics writer.
Telesha was a fifth-grader at McKinley Elementary School when the publisher Rodale, a corporate sponsor of the school, learned of his illness and his desire to write a comic. He spent five months working with Rodale staffers and teachers from his school to produce the graphic novel, Hero Up!, which features four superheroes — one of whom, Venom Transporter, was based on Telesha himself. “He can get bit by the most poisonous snake and spider at the same time repeatedly and still just get stronger,” Telesha explained in a YouTube video.
When the comic was complete, a run of 30 hardcover and 1,000 softcover editions was printed, and every Allentown public school library has a copy. There are rumors that Telesha was working on a sequel.
Cancer was not the only obstacle Telesha had to overcome: In 2009 his biological father beat his mother to death with a baseball bat. Telesha was in foster care and was adopted in 2011, and in the YouTube video, he focuses on the positive, the support he received from his family and friends. And like geeks everywhere, he liked to share his pleasures; he was instrumental in getting an XBox 360 donated to the hospital where he was treated, so the other pediatric cancer patients could enjoy it.
Beyond his work in comics, Telesha was an inspiration to his fellow students. A hallway at his school was named after him, and his fellow students wear “Z” T-shirts in his honor. A video made shortly before his death shows him clowning around with his IV port. “What he left us was more of a legacy than probably the richest man in Allentown,” said his science teacher, John Annoni.