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Salmon tourney raises funds for children's hospitals

Dylan Goetz • May 25, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Scott Fairchild was told that his son “might not make it” before he was born.

“It was very tough to hear that,” he said.

Instead of accepting it, Fairchild went to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids to get a second opinion in what turned out, he said, to be the best decision he could have ever made for his son, Wyatt.

Born with spina bifida, Wyatt joined dozens of other participants for the Tri-Cities Kiwanis Salmon Tournament on Thursday. The event, which started at 6 a.m., challenges participants to catch the biggest salmon they can to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, DeVos Children’s Hospital, Mary Free Bed and the North Ottawa Community Health System. 

Winning fishermen were awarded prizes after they weighed in their catch. Other participants who caught fish were entered into a raffle.

“It was really awesome,” Wyatt said. “I don’t think I have ever caught a salmon before, but today I caught six.”

Spina bifada is a rare birth defect in which a baby’s spinal cord fails to develop. There is no cure, but ongoing treatment can help the patient.

“I can’t say enough about DeVos,” said Fairchild, a native of Rothbury. “They are just amazing. They make the experience so much better for the kids.”

All proceeds from Thursday’s tournament are dedicated to support pediatric care. The event was founded by Earl O’Brien and is hosted by the Tri-Cities Kiwanis Club.

O’Brien founded the fishing tournament 17 years ago in honor of his late wife. The St. Jude and DeVos children’s hospitals were some of her favorite organizations to support, O’Brien noted.

“That’s the beauty in all this — we don’t take any of the money,” he said. “It is all for the hospitals.”

Former Tri-Cities Kiwanis President Leon Stille said O’Brien is still “very instrumental” in the fundraising and setup of the fishing tournament.

“I thank God every day for people like this,” said Fairchild, who was attending the fishing tournament for the first time.

“We have had perfect weather,” Stille said during Thursday’s tournament, “and this year has been one of our best fishing years, too.”

Devin Pierson, who attended the event on behalf of DeVos Children’s Hospital, said some of the proceeds from the tournament will help fund the Child Life program at the Grand Rapids hospital. The program is fully supported by donations.

Child Life specialists are assigned to specific areas to make patients feel comfortable. Pierson described these specialists as the “heart and soul” of the children’s hospital.

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