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A Very Special Gift

As told by Doug Dykens

A 16-year-old fisherman with leukemia gets a special gift from a boatbuilding Good Samaritan.

As the customer-service manager for one of the largest Yanmar Marine engine distributors in the U.S., I pride myself on helping others every day. So to find myself on the other side of needing help was a life changer for both my wife and me. Within 72 hours we went from the perfect family—my wife, two kids, a dog, and me—to a total nightmare: Our 16-year-old son, Dylan, was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2014. It was the same week he got out of school for summer break. We had a big vacation to Utah planned; it’s where all of my wife’s family lives.

Dylan Dykens

The side effects from the chemo needed to treat Dylan were horrible. And because of his age, the dosages were still being studied. Most kids who get his kind of leukemia are usually less than 10 years old. Dylan was a good bit older.

Needless to say, there were many challenging nights in the hospital, dealing with the side effects. I thought that if I heard one more person say that fighting the disease would make Dylan a stronger man, I would scream!

One night, while I was staying with Dylan (the morphine usually allowed him to sleep through my snoring), he was having a really bad time. I thought he might be giving up on us. But we talked about boating and fishing and his favorite fishing spots. And he asked me about getting a bigger boat—one with a tower that he could go flats and inshore fishing on, but also maybe take a little ways out into the Gulf of Mexico to get an occasional grouper or hogfish. I saw a light come on in his face. I could see that was how to keep him fighting. I promised him that boat!

We started looking at what made the most sense—what we could afford. I convinced him that we’d get the boat first, then the tower. He spent hours on the computer, searching for just the right lights, the right bottom machine, and the right tower. It kept him looking forward to each day, and the day he’d get out of the hospital. Eventually, we found the perfect boat, a 22-foot Sea Hunt. Jim Nasset at Pro Marine, the local dealer here in St. Petersburg, Florida, made us a great deal.

Shortly after that, Dylan was approached by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He asked them if he could get things to make his boat better, rather than going on a trip. He asked if maybe whatever money was generally spent on such things could be put toward a tower. He said a tower would be something that he could share with his family and his fishing buddies. The memories would last much longer than the memories of a weekend getaway. He also said that with a tower, he could be more competitive in local fishing tournaments, and that he could give back his winnings to the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. He said that if the available money was not quite enough, his father might be able to step up. The truth of the matter, though, was I didn’t see how we could possibly afford to put a tower on that boat, even with help from Make-A-Wish.

Then we got word from Kevin Barker of Sarasota’s Barker Boatworks. Kevin had heard about Dylan’s wish from his wife, whose best friend is a Make-A-Wish coordinator in Bradenton, Florida. I believe Kevin has kids about the same age, so the whole thing struck home for him.

It wasn’t long before he met with us and spent time with Dylan, designing the tower. He invited Dylan to come to the shop and learn how to bend pipe, so he could be sure to get everything exactly how he wanted it.

What Kevin then pulled off, with the help of some of the vendors he uses, is nothing short of incredible! He built and installed that tower, and made Dylan’s boat a wish come true. I will never forget that night in the hospital, and I will never forget Kevin Barker and his generosity to Dylan and my family.

Dylan Dykens’ leukemia has been in remission for almost two years now, although he was still undergoing chemotherapy on a periodic basis at presstime. Dylan fishes as many tournaments as possible, and donates his winnings to the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. In addition to fishing, he enjoys mountain biking and making his four-wheeler go airborne.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.