St. Jude's fishing tournament gives VIP treatment to kids with cancer
Written by Grand Haven Tribune   
Monday, 06 June 2011 16:45
During her time spent at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, eight year-old Greta Goszkowicz of North Muskegon has collected thousands of colorful beads, signifying any achievement — big or small — in her battle against lymphoblastic leukemia.

The beads, in many cases, signify courage after Goszkowicz has successfully gone through medical procedures such as chemotherapy, a spinal tap or blood transfusion. Or they may reflect special people that have visited her in the hospital or new friends she has made.

After Thursday, Goszkowicz can add another potential bead to her collection — that of a successful fisherman.

Goszkowicz was one of 10 children that has been treated with active cancer who enjoyed a morning of fishing aboard 24 area charter boats during the Tri-Cities Kiwanis Salmon Tournament for St. Jude’s. The annual event raises money for St. Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., one of the premier research and treatment centers in America for children with cancer or other catastrophic diseases.

The founder of the six year-old event, Grand Haven’s Earl O’Brien, continues to be amazed by the generous contributions throughout the community. The raffle prizes and personal gifts for the children included items such as personal watches to IPods.

“Despite the fluxuations with our economy, we’re still seeing just amazing contributions all over,” he said. “We believe we’ve topped $40,000 (in donations) this year, which would be our best year ever.”

Entering Thursday, the tournament has raised over $180,000 for St. Jude’s.

Goszkowicz, along with her father, Rich, boarded the Fish ‘n Fun charter early Thursday morning, along with the mother-daughter duo of Naomi Despres and Claire Despres-VandenBosch of Spring Lake.

The girls, at one time, shared the same floor as patients at Helen DeVos. Thursday, during a sunny day aboard a 37-foot Trojan Express charter boat co-owned and driven by Nunica’s Fran Fannin, they each enjoyed a spirited fight with rod and reel in hand, producing the largest fish they have ever caught.

“My arms are so tired,” Greta said with a laugh halfway through her fight with a steelhead just past 9:30 a.m. Fortunately, her dad provided a quick helping hand.
With a hat covering her re-growing red hair, Greta marveled at the “slimy” fish as captain April Holmes netted the steelhead and carefully placed it into a cooler.

Greta and Claire each recited a good-luck ritual soon after, which was encouraged by Fannin.

“To the lady of the lake,
from the Fish ‘n Fun,
thank you, thank you,
now bring us another one.”

They proceeded to toss a penny over their shoulder into the lake.

The Goszkowiczs also hope for some luck in Greta’s ongoing battle with leukemia. Since being diagnosed in 2008, she’s relapsed once on her road to recovery, forcing her to start over with treatments.

“She’s lost her hair four times,” said Rich, an elementary special education teacher in Fruitport. “She’s now in the phase called maintenance, which is the last stage. She’s got eight months of chemo left. We still go to the clinic every week and sometimes her (white blood) counts are too low, which keeps her stuck at home. Those white blood cells are like her soldiers fighting this war for her. When there’s not enough soldiers, it can cause problems.”

Rich hopes his daughter will be in the same stage soon as 12-year-old Claire, a fifth-grader at Spring Lake Intermediate School. She now boasts a clean bill of health.

Claire was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia last July called acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and fortunately, the extremely aggressive chemotherapy treatments that doctors recommended were successful in helping her win the fight against the disease.

“The treatment was really intense and it forces the story to really unfold quick,” Naomi Despres said. “Fortunately, she was able to come home four days before Christmas. That was the best Christmas present ever.”

Her mom has noticed Claire still doesn’t possess the same energy level as before her diagnosis, but Claire appeared to have plenty of pep in her step as she reeled in an impressive king salmon minutes after Greta’s first catch.

“It’s been a slow climb back, but hopefully she’s done with it,” Naomi said. “Knock on wood.”

Greta later added a large lake trout to the day’s catch before waves on Lake Michigan went flat and the fish quit biting. Still, the event was appreciated by everyone aboard Fish ‘n Fun.

“This acts as a distraction for these kids,” Rich Goszkowicz said. “It’s just a fun opportunity for children, who in many cases miss out on a lot of things like field trips, and other things at school. It gives them a chance to be treated special. It’s always nice to be VIPs once in awhile.”

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