By Danny Garrett
Hearing the news of a life-altering diagnosis is a challenging event. The largely unexpected news initiates a sharp and sudden fear of the unknown, along with the question, “How will I get through this?”
On top of the news, the invasive treatments, their enervating aftereffects and the medical bills create more adversity.
No one should experience these times alone. Neither should one feel that an illness should define one’s life.
Dose of the Coast, a Louisiana “non-profit organization that provides fishing, sailing and sunset cruises to those impacted by a life-altering illness free of charge,” shares this philosophy.
The organization’s story began in 2014 in Empire, La. Ashley Ferguson’s father, Donald R. Walker, was battling liver cancer, and Ferguson and her husband, Adam, organized a boating and fishing trip for Walker to take his mind off his illness. Walker loved the open water and all things nautical; thus, it was a thoughtful and considerate move by Ferguson and her partner.
During the trip, Captain Mark Trahan headed the boat, and, per Ferguson’s request, they “stayed close to shore and out of choppy waters.” The purpose of the trip was peace and serenity, to bring joy to Walker’s life by pairing him with his passion.
Walker raved about the trip during and after the experience, which surprised Ferguson. Walker had gone fishing all over the world, and had caught aquatic life as large as marlin and shark. During the Empire trip, however, he caught only speckled trout and redfish, but, still, he continued to exuberantly praise the outing.
The reasons: he was with his family, enjoying his passion in a peaceful environment. And, finally, it wasn’t the cancer that defined his life anymore; it was family and the water instead.
Walker passed away in 2015, and even during his last days, he continued to express his deepest gratitude for the outing and raved about how much the boating expedition meant to him for those key reasons.
Ferguson wanted to spread the joy that her father felt on this trip to other families. Therefore, early in 2017, she and Adam created Dose of the Coast.
Ferguson was excellently positioned to begin such an organization. She’s a biologist at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, so she had connections. Which isn’t to say a finished organization fell right into her lap. It didn’t. Its creation took work. Ferguson brought in Captain Sam Barbera and Our Lady of the Lake’s Dr. Jonathan Richards, who helped cover gasoline and other essential charter boat necessities. Ferguson contacted Ben and Heather Schultz, too, who donated trips on their 36-foot sailboat. Even Ferguson herself prepared sunset cruises on pontoon boats.
Many of Dose of the Coast’s participants come from the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center; that’s the organization Ferguson first approached. By no means, however, is this the only place where Dose of the Coast’s participants come from. Participants come from all over South Louisiana, and from Texas. The Perkins Cancer Center holds a special place in Dose of the Coast due to the center’s survivorship program, which provides countless activities for those battling cancer. With programs in art, writing, pet fostership, cooking and yoga, their aim is the person’s emotional and spiritual core.
Dose of the Coast is now a part of the Perkins Cancer Center’s survivorship program. Their goals for those going through life-altering illnesses align with that well, as do their outcomes.
Ferguson’s organization takes participants out on the water from not only Empire, but also Venice and Slidell. They also offer trips on Lake Pontchartrain.
The water has a healing effect. The undulating waves are peaceful to the ear. Louisiana’s flora and fauna are serene to the sight. The open air and fresh water are pleasing to one’s sense of smell. Most of all, it helps participants focus on their passion, their love for the water, boating, fishing and community. According to Dr. Francine Lawrence, one of the medical professionals at the Perkins Cancer Center, these experiences lessen depression and anxiety, and they give participants an exciting and positive event to look forward to.
Dose of the Coast has been a great success in the Bayou State. It has provided trips for 21 participants and 63 of their family members since 2017.
Ferguson has been recognized for her efforts. On Dec. 12, the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center awarded Ferguson with the D. Jensen Holliday Memorial Award for her work with Dose of the Coast.
If interested in becoming a participant, a volunteer or a donor, contact Dose of the Coast at 504-641-4629 or at Ashley@doseofthecoast.org.
Dose of the Coast is a non-profit that provides fishing, sailing and sunset cruises to those impacted by a life-altering illness free of charge.