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Fishing offers day of relief for young patients

Emma Dale • May 26, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Emily Vankeuren said Thursday morning’s Tri-Cities Kiwanis Salmon Fishing Tournament helped her feel “normal” for once.

The 17-year-old Comstock Park girl has been in treatment at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids since being diagnosed with cancer in October 2016. In March, she was declared cancer-free.

Vankeuren and 11 other patients of DeVos Children’s Hospital participated in the salmon tournament, which raises money to support DeVos, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and North Ottawa Community Health System’s pediatric division. The event raised $17,000.

The tournament kicked off at 6 a.m., with boats launching from Chinook Pier and motoring out into Lake Michigan for the morning. After returning at about noon, fish were weighed and the kids enjoyed food with family and friends.

Spencer Bosch of Allendale caught two fish — a coho salmon and lake trout. Bosch, 12, said he has been fishing as long as he can remember, and he “loves fishing and being out on the water.”

Bosch was treated at DeVos for appendicitis, but he’s healthy now.

The tournament has been taking place every year for more than a decade, and it was started by Earl O’Brien. O’Brien said he remembers years ago seeing a commercial on TV about helping St. Jude raise money, and he thought, “I got to help.” After joining the Tri-Cities Kiwanis, and being an avid fisher himself, O’Brien toyed with the idea of a golf tournament before deciding to create a fishing tournament to raise money.

O’Brien described the amazing the feeling of going out on the water with the children, talking to them and watching them enjoy forgetting about their hardships for a few hours. He credited the Kiwanis team’s hard work with making this tournament happen.

“(There) are so many people who care,” O’Brien said. “It’s wonderful for the kids. This is a good day for them.”

Rockford native Alec Deen, 13, was accompanied by his uncle during Thursday’s tournament. Deen said he loves getting out on the water, and was excited he caught a king salmon — the biggest he had ever caught.

Deen has Blau syndrome — an inflammatory disorder that primarily affects the skin, joints and eyes. He just got out of treatment earlier this week. He described the overall experience of the day fishing on Lake Michigan as “awesome.”

The next Tri-Cities Kiwanis Salmon Fishing Tournament will take place July 27.

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