Los Angeles Times

In The Pipeline: Paddling 26 miles for one little girl's sight

About 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Drew Kenny arrived at the Huntington Beach Pier. How did he get there? On a stand-up paddleboard. Where did he leave from? Catalina Island.

Just what would inspire the 42-year-old Huntington Beach consultant to paddle 26 miles?

Five-year-old Katelyn Divis.

She attends Smith Elementary School with Kenny's son. And she's been blind since birth.

When Kenny heard that the Divis family had planned to raise money to travel to China for cutting-edge stem cell procedures in the hope of correcting the condition, he decided to make the strenuous trip as a charitable cause mission for the child. Two of his friends, former San Francisco 49er Tom Cavallo and Gary Sinclair, decided to join him.

So they set off at 6:30 a.m. Sunday from Catalina, three men on a mission to help a little girl see.

Shortly after arriving ashore, Kenny told me he felt "euphoric" and "energized."

"She's a precious child and we were happy to do it," he said. "The family met us on shore with a big banner, and we just felt amazing."

A boat cruised alongside the men to toss some snacks and drinks as they paddled, just as they did last year when Kenny performed the same feat for a friend who had cancer.

Katelyn's dad, Justin, told me that Kenny and his company's feat left him awed.

"People have been so generous," he said. "Jack's Surfboards has been really generous helping us raise funds. Lots of family and friends at school. But Drew is just beyond words. What he has done to raise money, awareness — it's incredible. I mean, he just paddled 26 miles. This guy is amazing."


Katelyn's mom, Jamie, said that the family already traveled to China last March for the initial stem cell treatments, which are not performed here in the United States. They stayed in the hospital with Katelyn for one month after fundraising efforts helped provide the trip. And the results?

"Katelyn, who has a rare condition known as septo-optic dysplasia, could not see at all before the treatments. Today, after the stem cell work, she does have some light reflex perception, which is a huge first step. But the experience also gave her confidence in life and had other positive effects. Now we're at a point where we feel we need to go back for the second round of treatments. It seems to be working, but we want to put it to the full test."

And these are some of Jamie's thoughts from the family website:

"Despite the challenges life has presented Katelyn, she has learned and achieved much in her short five years here on Earth. Kate reads and writes Braille well above her age expectation, has run in a marathon, is a member of a local children's choir and has performed in her first piano recital."

If you'd like to see the marvelous child firsthand, you can follow this video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv-fw1t4Ie0.

As for donating, here is a message from the family:

"The cost to undergo the treatments for septo-optic dysplasia is $80,000+. Like many of you, our financial reserves do not come close to covering such a fee. We are determined to do our part to allow our daughter to have the chance of improved vision and are currently seeking every possible avenue to make this a reality.

"It is with humility that we ask for your help in raising the funds necessary to allow Katelyn this opportunity. Your donations as well as ideas for and patronage of additional fundraising activities are greatly needed."

To donate, visit http://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=ALCLEZV6WCRN6 or mail checks to the Katelyn Divis Fund, 8941 Atlanta Ave. No. 179, Huntington Beach, CA, 92646.

I know things are tough all around, but I did want to make you aware of this important situation. And to Drew, Tom and Gary, the iron men — well done.


Budding local journalist Taylor Carlin, 11, sent me her review of the U.S. Open of Surfing this week. In part, it read:

"Living all of my 11 years in Huntington Beach, I look forward to the Open every summer. This year didn't disappoint. Sunday morning, I watched Kelly Slater win his heat. He's such an amazing surfer; he makes it look so easy!

But surfing isn't all the Open has to offer.

It's really cool to see the beach transform into its own city full of booths, free giveaways and tons of people from all over the world…The surfers got lucky with the great weather and huge waves; I'm already looking forward to next year."


Note: At 2 p.m. Sunday at the Bella Terra Barnes & Noble, I'd love it if you joined me as I have the honor and privilege of leading a discussion with a true American hero. Lt. Col. Gene Boyer has written a fascinating book, "Inside the President's Helicopter: Reflections of a White House Senior Pilot." This promises to be an extraordinary afternoon of incredible "inside" history of transporting no less than five presidents and much more, including Nixon's farewell that notable last day in office. Boyer will then sign his books, providing a rare opportunity to obtain what I consider to be quite the historic souvenir. I'd had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people and hearing some incredible stories. And nobody holds a candle to this gentleman. I look forward to seeing you.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at chris@chrisepting.com.

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