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

August 10, 2011|By Chris Epting
(Courtesy Chris…)

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:

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