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Hooking hope

Nate Thompson • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:34 AM

He definitely had some exciting news to share, considering it was easily the biggest fish he’d ever caught.

The 15-year-old enjoyed a morning as one of the guests of honor aboard the Grand Haven-area charter boat Salmon Buster, captained by Les Henderson and his wife, first mate Donna Henderson.

El-Sheikh, of Ravenna, had a tumor discovered in his stomach nearly a year ago. He wasn’t afraid to show the scar from the successful surgery either.

Now in remission for the second time from Burkitt’s lymphoma, a highly aggressive type of cancer that often starts and involves body parts other than the lymph nodes, El-Sheikh was one of 12 children from DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids who were treated to a morning of fishing through the Tri-Cities Kiwanis Salmon Tournament. The event raises money for the St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. — one of the premier institutions in the country for cancer research and treatment for children.

The event has been remarkably successful thanks to the generosity throughout the community, said event founder Earl O’Brien.

“We had sponsors for every boat (approximately 30) and the generosity of people just shined through again,” he said. “We raised more this year than we ever have before — nearly $42,000. That puts us up near $265,000 for the eight years this has been going on.

"It’s a piece of cake now (getting donations)," O'Brien added. "The people in this community have been so wonderful, so giving.”

El-Sheikh, whose father is a native of Egypt, was joined on board with his step-brother, Kyle Pankey.

Another cancer survivor, 12-year-old Jackson Barber of Hastings, also enjoyed the trip with the company of his grandfather, Tom Raines.

The Hendersons have made it a point at being involved with the tournament every year, and have even taken a pair of patients out for Make-A-Wish fishing trips. So, after the cooler on the Salmon Buster remained unfilled nearly two hours into the trip on Thursday, the Hendersons fretted that maybe a certain black-and-white stuffed animal that was presented to them by a rival charter captain was bringing the boat bad luck.

But when Barber successfully hauled in a nice 12-pound king to complete the first big catch, Donna proclaimed the “skunk was off the board.” The smile on Barber’s face sure wasn’t.

“I need to get that mounted,” he said. “That’s the first salmon I’ve ever caught.”

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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