A year ago, 14-year-old Tyler Daniels was hospitalized with a life-threatening brain injury. Tuesday morning he pulled a 35-pound king salmon out of the Kenai River.
Fishing on the Kenai is a wish come true for Tyler.
He and his family parents, Peggy and Gregory, and sister, Mikayla are on a week-long fishing trip on the Kenai Peninsula arranged by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization which has been arranging for the wishes of kids with life-threatening medical conditions to come true for more two decades.
Tyler suffered traumatic injury to the left side of his brain, in addition to some broken bones, in May of last year due to a dirt bike accident. The brain injury was severe and impaired Tyler's speech, motor skills and even his ability to eat. After a year of therapy and recovery, however, he's regained much of what was lost.
"He had to learn to speak, walk, swallow he's learned to do everything all over again," said Tyler's mother, Peggy Daniels.
Considering the severity of his injury, Tyler's doctors in Pittsburgh the Daniels live in Alverton, Pa. thought he was the perfect candidate for Make-A-Wish. The doctors would fill out the paper work, all Tyler had to do was make a wish.
Tyler had fished with his dad for trout, but had wanted to try for something bigger after watching shows on ESPN2 that highlighted fishing in Alaska, according to his mother.
"He said right away he wanted to go fishing in Alaska," she said.
The doctors submitted the application and the foundation granted Tyler's wish almost immediately.
"All of a sudden, we were coming to Alaska fishing," said Peggy.
To assist Tyler in catching a king, the Department of Fish and Game waived the numerous fishing regulations on the Kenai. In short, Tyler was allowed to use bait and keep whatever he caught, said Steve McClure, who was the Daniels' fishing guide for the day.
The waiver may not have been necessary.
"The fish cooperated," said McClure. "We had a pretty good day. We had a lot of action everywhere we went."
The party turned loose a couple smaller kings, but kept a 10-pounder Tyler's 10-year-old sister, Mikayla, caught. Tyler's mother hooked a large king, but the salmon was two inches too short to keep.
Between hits on their rods, the Daniels took in the scenery and the wildlife. McClure pointed out arctic terns, but Tyler and Mikayla weren't impressed until they spotted a bald eagle in her aerie with her chicks. The eagle was nesting, appropriately, near Eagle Rock.
"She was a mom and you could tell she was feeding," said Peggy.
Tyler and Mikayla were excited about the sighting, but too shy to talk about it. When Tyler finally spoke up, it was with typical teenage understatement.
"I thought it was pretty cool," he said.
Tyler and family fished Monday on the Kasilof River and are scheduled to spend Saturday halibut fishing out of Seward, before returning to Pennsylvania on Sunday.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants about 50 wishes a year in Alaska, half to kids from the state and half from, mostly, the Lower 48. Kids from out of state have wished to see the northern lights, ride in a dog sled, pet a reindeer, meet Santa Claus and, like Tyler, catch a big one.
"Kenai is really popular with our kids who want to fish," said Michele Miller of Make-A-Wish Foundation's Anchorage office.
In addition to granting a kid's wish, another goal of the foundation is simply to give kids with life-threatening medical conditions and their parents a break from the stress they've gone through. Which is why Make-A-Wish and its sponsors arrange and pay for everything. All the family has to do is show up.
"It's just a time the family doesn't have to worry about anything," Miller said.
Although the kids who have their wishes granted have life-threatening conditions, many of the kids' prognoses for survival and recovery are good. In which case, Make-A-Wish is not granting a final wish, but a strongly desired and well-earned one.
"Medical protocols have improved so much many of our kids go on to live healthy, happy lives. So it's not like their last wish, it's their most heart-felt wish," Miller said.
Tyler Daniels is an example of a kid who received one of those heart-felt wishes. Although his condition was life-threatening, his prognosis for continued recovery is good.
"I always thought of Make-A-Wish as being for the terminally ill, but Tyler is a traumatic head injury patient and recovering every day," said Peggy Daniels. "We're just so grateful for everyone who's made his wish come true."
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