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Kenai is river of dreams

Program lets kids forget illness, fulfill outdoor fantasies

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2006

 

  Outdoor Dreams Foundation guests Desmond Conyers, left, and Scotty Singleton learn the Kenai River flip while trying to land salmon at Krog's Kamp near Soldotna on Friday. Photo by Phil Hermanek

Outdoor Dreams Foundation guests Desmond Conyers, left, and Scotty Singleton learn the Kenai River flip while trying to land salmon at Krog's Kamp near Soldotna on Friday.

Photo by Phil Hermanek

Landing a big salmon from the Kenai River or battling a halibut up from the depths of Cook Inlet are the dreams of many young people each summer, but for two youngsters fishing here this week, the challenges pale in comparison to the battles they’ve already endured.

Instead of spending their day learning the definition of medical terms like acute myeloid leukemia or large T-cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Desmond Conyers, 13, and Scotty Singleton, 14, both from South Carolina, were eagerly practicing the Kenai River flip, while trying to bring salmon to the riverbank in front of Krog’s Kamp just outside Soldotna.

The boys had already undergone the rigors of bone marrow transplants for their life-threatening diseases.

Now they — and their fathers — fixed their attention on the glacial green waters of the Kenai, hoping for a strike, thanks to the Outdoor Dreams Foundation and the generosity of a number of Kenai Peninsula individuals and businesses that donated services to assure a dream adventure of a lifetime.

· Desmond’s battle with leukemia

In 2004, Desmond complained of his back hurting him.

The pain was serious enough that his parents took him to the emergency room near the family home in Manning, S.C.

“They did some tests, but couldn’t figure it out,” said Desmond’s father, Michael Conyers.

More tests were done that night and then Desmond was sent to a pediatrician in Sumpter.

From there he was sent to the hospital in Sumpter for further testing, but still no answer was found.

“They transferred him to Palmetto-Richland Hospital in Columbia, (S.C.,) where they found AML,” the elder Conyers said.

The diagnosis took two weeks.

Chemotherapy was begun at once, and over the course of two months, Desmond received three treatments administered in 10-day increments.

For 11 of those days the treatments were so painful, Desmond was placed in Intensive Care.

The previously active kid, who enjoyed running around and riding his bike, said he was sad and “really missed being able to go outdoors.”

In April 2005, doctors determined he needed a bone-marrow transplant.

Testing for a suitable donor began immediately, and although Desmond’s parents came close, they were not perfect matches.

Desmond’s older brother — Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Michael Antwanne Conyers — was home on leave at the time and was tested before he returned to Kuwait.

Luckily he was a perfect match and was able to arrange for an emergency leave back to the States through the American Red Cross.

On April 8, stem cells were taken from the sergeant at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, and given to his brother. After a week in isolation, Desmond was allowed to leave the hospital.

“They still wanted me near the hospital, in case I had to go back in, but after two weeks I went home,” Desmond said. “I was really happy.”

Later this month Desmond will return to school. Because he did home-bound training during the 1 1/2 years of treatments, he’s going back as an eighth-grader.

Desmond said he’s eager to get back to school.

“I don’t want to go back to the hospital,” he said.

· Non-Hodgkins lymphoma

When Scotty Singleton was 6 years old, he started having fevers with temperatures over 103. They lasted three weeks, according to his father, Bill Singleton.

“We took him to University Hospital where they found swollen knots in his neck and under his arms. It was non-Hodgkins lymphoma,” the elder Singleton said.

Doctors also found lymph nodes in Scotty’s chest that were swelling and cutting off his breathing.

He was put on steroids to reduce the swelling, and protocol chemotherapy to address the cancer.

“They gave him a 70 percent chance of recovery,” Bill said.

By age 8, Scotty’s cancer was in remission and he was taken off chemotherapy.

He went back to school, but started getting unexplained headaches.

The local physician couldn’t find a cause, and suggested it might be “school-itis,” said Bill. “He even recommended sending Scotty to a school psychiatrist to see if he just didn’t want to be in school.”

Not satisfied, Scotty’s parents took him to the emergency room in Conway, S.C., where an ER physician found a tumor in the back of his head.

“She ran a series of tests and found the lymphoma had relapsed into the central nervous system, forming the soft tumor on his brain,” Bill said.

This time steroids didn’t work.

Scotty was placed in intensive care, but the swelling continued, finally putting him into a coma.

Emergency brain surgery was performed.

“The cancer doctor said it was out of his hands; the neurosurgeon said there wasn’t much chance; we put it in the Lord’s hands,” said Scotty’s dad, fighting back tears. “We prayed.”

That was five years ago.

Scotty recovered from the surgery and was put on a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, and then autologous stem cell therapy.

Bill Singleton said it is like a bone marrow transplant, using Scotty’s own stem cells.

Scotty’s stem cells were removed and frozen; his immune system was wiped out; and his stem cells were returned, according to Bill.

The treatment worked, and Scotty is now off radiation, he’s off chemotherapy and he’s an honor student who will be entering the ninth grade in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

· Outdoor Dreams

Much like the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Outdoor Dreams offers hope and some fun for children battling life-threatening diseases.

Make-a-Wish dropped hunting from its program about five years ago, and Outdoor Dreams was founded to fill the need for kids who dreamed of hunting and fishing.

“I just always wanted to visit Alaska,” said Scotty at Krog’s Kamp on Friday, where he and Desmond, and their dads are staying while on the Kenai Peninsula. “I always heard it was good fishing.”

Desmond, who said the biggest fish he has ever caught was a perch in Santee, S.C., also heard the fishing was good in Alaska.

After spending their first night at Summerset Bed and Breakfast in Anchorage, the fathers and sons, and Dreams representative Ray Bass, drove to Krog’s Kamp where they were met by Hobo Jim, who took the group salmon fishing on the Kenai River and tossed in a sing-along around the fire pit for good measure.

Mel Krogseng, who is providing lodging and all meals for the group, also arranged for Kenai River salmon fishing with guides Annalee Lott, Michael Revis and Victoria Whitney, as well as a halibut fishing outing provided by Catch-A-Lot Charters out of Anchor Point.

Operators of Kenai Fjords Tours will provide a cruise on Resurrection Bay for the group on Monday.

On their first day out, Scotty caught a pink salmon near Eagle Rock, and Desmond said he hasn’t caught anything yet.

“I’m listening to what they’re telling me. But it ain’t working,” he said Friday.

Considering the battles he and Scotty have already endured in their lives, the fish should be in fear.



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