Group Fulfilled Last Wish to Visit Hawaii Home : Youth Loses Battle With Cancer

Times Staff Writer

Matt Verville, the 18-year-old terminally ill cancer patient whose wish to visit his home state of Hawaii was granted by the Starlight Foundation in December, died Saturday at his home in Mission Viejo.

Verville's condition had gradually worsened over the past two months, according to Vera Lang, a Visiting Nurse Assn. Hospice volunteer who began visiting the young man and his family last September.

"Matt had gotten so very weak the last week," said Lang, noting that his mother, Jean, "was taking care of him fully" at home.

Verville had just finished his junior year at Silverado High School in July, 1984, when he was diagnosed as having osteogenic sarcoma, a highly malignant bone tumor most common in people between the ages of 10 and 20. A month after the diagnosis, his leg was amputated.

It was during a talk with Lang last October that Verville discussed his desire to visit Hawaii. Lang contacted the Starlight Foundation, which grants wishes to the terminally ill. Verville's wish, as his mother said at the time, was "to see the sunrise and the sunset, and the place where he was born and the place where he will be put to rest."

A week before he was scheduled to leave for Hawaii in early December, however, he was hospitalized. Unable to eat or keep liquids down, including the liquid morphine he was taking to ease the pain in his leg and pelvic area, he had become dehydrated.

Verville's hospitalization prevented him from lighting a special 35-foot Christmas tree in front of the Visiting Nurse Assn. building in Orange. His father, Marine Sgt. Maj. Thaddeus Verville, stood in for his son, who had been chosen for the honor.

Verville, however, was determined to make the trip to Hawaii, and on Dec. 4 he, his parents and two of his sisters flew there. They were accompanied by two of his best friends and Lang.

"It took a hell of a lot of courage to get up and make that trip because there was pain and nausea and a few other things," Lang said Monday.

Lang said Verville "will always have a special place in my heart."

"He was a very strong young man and he tried like hell to beat this thing, but when he knew he wasn't going to do it, he said, 'OK.' He's just special . . . I'm going to miss him."

Verville is survived by his mother and father and four sisters--June, Donna, Debbie and Gina. A memorial service will be held at the chapel at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

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