The experience of a lifetime: Michigan boy visits Kenai Peninsula, reunited with doctor
By Mike Nesper | Peninsula Clarion
Having battled cancer most of his life, when 14-year-old Kevin Hertz's pediatric oncologist, Merlin Hamry, told him he was moving to Alaska, Kevin and his family were devastated. Hamry had a well-established rapport with Kevin and treated him for eight years after Kevin was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age three.
So when a second tumor developed in Kevin's brain at age 12, he and his family were without Hamry's familiar face. Prior to leaving Michigan for the Last Frontier, Hamry told Kevin to take a fishing trip and come visit him.
Thanks to Benefit 4 Kids, a nonprofit organization that grants outdoor life wishes to children with life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses, Kevin was reunited with his former doctor.
"Wow. How do you explain a place that beautiful?" said Kevin's mom, Karen. "We want to go back."
Kevin, along with his parents and brother, left their Sterling Heights, MI home August 3 and spent a week in Alaska.
Kevin and his family first visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage.
"That place was just amazing," Karen said.
The Hertzs then went to Soldotna and fished for two days on the Kenai River.
"It was thrilling," Karen said. "We did really, really well in the fishing department."
Kevin and his family caught silver and king salmon, Dolly Varden's and rainbow trout, said Val Early, of Early's Lodge, where the Hertz family stayed.
"I caught a lot of fish," Kevin said.
"They were a lot of fun to have," Val said. "We had a great time."
During his time in Soldotna, Kevin got a visit from his former doctor and the two fished together, fulfilling Kevin's plan to visit Alaska and his ex-oncologist.
"He's a very, very nice doctor," Karen said.
The Hertzs didn't stay in Soldotna long. After two days of fishing, they were off to Seward for a behind-the-scenes tour of the SeaLife Center, where Kevin was able to touch an octopus, dissect a squid and feed a puffin.
Kevin's final adventure was had in Whittier, where he and his family enjoyed a cruise of Prince William Sound. Kevin was able to hold a piece of a glacier while on the cruise.
Karen said Prince William Sound was breathtaking.
"We couldn't ask for a better trip," she said. "The best trip we've ever had."
After being home for just over two weeks, Karen said the trip is still fresh in her mind.
"I still beam when I talk about Alaska," she said.
"It was awesome," Kevin said. "I definitely want to go back again."
Kevin said he started saving all of his change so he can visit Alaska again in the future.
Karen said Benefit 4 Kids arranged the entire trip, which was a nice break in her typical routine.
"When your child is sick, everything is on you," she said. "They took that responsibility away from us."
"It's a really rewarding experience," Val said about being involved in Kevin's trip. "It's always nice to give back."
Val said she was thrilled to be a part of building memories for years to come for Kevin and his family.
"I was really happy that we had the opportunity to help," Val said. "I had a really nice time with him."
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.