THE PERFECT DOSE

LEFT: Ashley Ferguson with her father, Donald R. Walker, enjoy a fishing trip that led to the creation of Ferguson’s Dose of the Coast Foundation.

LDWF Biologist Ashley Ferguson’s Foundation Helps Lift The Spirits Of Cancer Patients With A Day On The Water

story by TRey Iles, LDWF Public Information

Baton Rouge’s infamous traffic can drive the sanest person to the brink of road rage. But not Ashley Ferguson.

She actually relishes her time stuck in gridlock because it allows her to make phone calls for her non-profit foundation, Dose of the Coast.

“I spend about 30-45 minutes a day in traffic and that’s when I think, ‘Okay, who can I call now?’ ‘’ said Ferguson, a fisheries biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “I can get a lot done.’’

In fact, it’s the organization she founded in honor of her father, Donald R. Walker, that has accomplished a lot. Walker, an avid fisherman, died of cancer in December of 2015. During his battle with cancer, Ferguson arranged a charter boat fishing trip for him in 2014 out of Empire.

In his final days before succumbing to the disease, Walker reminisced about the trip and thanked his daughter for the experience.

“We didn’t limit out or catch the biggest fish but the trip was scheduled at a time when he really needed it, in the midst of his chemo treatment, when he was really down,’’ Ferguson said.

The trip was a chance for Walker to get out on the water with his family, doing what he loved one final time. “You could really see how it lifted his spirits,’’ Ferguson said.

From that trip, Dose of the Coast was born. The non-profit organization provides fishing, sailing and sunset cruise trips for patients and families who have been impacted by a life altering illness, such as cancer, free of charge. Since its inception in 2016, the foundation has provided 21 trips for over 80 people. All trips are provided by donor funding and sponsorships.

“How this has all to come together is nothing short of a miracle,’’ Ferguson said. “One night I was sitting on the sofa with my husband, really missing my dad, and that trip came to my mind. I told him that I wished I could do that for everyone that was facing what my dad was.’’

Ferguson’s husband, Adam, took it literally and mentioned the idea to his friend and co-worker, Dr. Jonathan Richards at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

“Dr. Richards told Adam, ‘I would support that. I’d give her the money to start it,’ ‘’ Ashley said. “That was very surprising. I felt that if a doctor supports it, maybe it could really help people.’’

Richards assisted with some of the charter boat operators’ gas and gear. Former charter boat captain Sam Barbera said he’d donate his time. As Ashley got the ball rolling, she enlisted the help of other charter captains and donors.

All the pieces fell neatly into place and on March 25, 2017, Dose of the Coast provided its first outing for a patient.

Ashley said she’s been humbled by the experiences of the people and their families on the trips.

“We took two ladies sailing and they were laying on the front of the sailboat,’’ Ashley recalled. “They were shouting ‘We feel like the Kennedys!’ They said they would have never thought to do this if their hospital did not offer it. One of the ladies talked about everything she had gone through and, even though she has completed her treatment, that anxiety reappears every time she has a checkup. But she decided she was going to live life to the fullest and we saw that on that trip.’’

Something for Which to Look Forward

The word cancer terrifies most people. Once the diagnosis is made the person with the illness has his or her daily life consumed by it. The treatments, visits to the doctors and hospital are a constant reminder of the ongoing battle.

Well-meaning friends and family want to know the latest on how the patient is doing as well as the prognosis. Cancer hovers around at all times and is continually on the patient’s mind.

But Ashley said the trips help the patients take their mind off of the disease for a while. Like an anticipated vacation, it’s something for which they can get excited.

“Sometimes patients in treatment can feel like they have lost some of their independence,’’ Ashley said. “Getting out on the water gives a chance to let all of that go. Something as simple as putting the date of their trip on the calendar can lift the spirits. One man who will be going fishing in four months calls often, excited to ask questions about his trip. He is one of my phone calls in traffic.

“Having something on the calendar that isn’t treatment related is a nice change of pace. I saw that with my dad. Family members ask ‘How are you doing, what’s the latest?’ The conversation would lead straight to an update about the last appointment or results, something to do with the cancer. After his fishing trip, it was all he could talk about.’’

Charter captains will donate their boats and sometimes ask Ashley to come along to act as a deckhand and liaison with the patients and their families. She’ll bait the hooks, net the fish and take care of any needs.

The foundation designs each trip with the patient’s desire in mind. They aren’t a one-size-fits-all excursion. Some people want to fish, like Ashley’s father. Others simply want to enjoy a sunset cruise on Lake Pontchartrain or a relaxing sailing trip.

Ashley said many of the participants have been fisher men or women all their lives.

“Last year one of our participants was nominated by his wife,’’ Ashley said. “She said her husband fished all of his life and received the unfortunate news that he was going blind. He really wanted to go fishing one more time before he lost his sight entirely. We hooked him up with a captain out of Slidell and they spent the day catching redfish. He wrote the sweetest thank you note that said he would remember it for the rest of his life.”

A Great Start, Bright Future

The coastal community began volunteering right away, donating their time and expertise after the organization was announced.

The first participants for Dose of the Coast came by way of the Mary Bird Perkins - Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program in Baton Rouge. Their program felt that Dose of the Coast was an excellent opportunity to offer survivors who like to fish or just enjoy the outdoors with another opportunity for healing while enjoying nature.

With the captains ready to help and participants ready to board, Dose of the Coast took off. The next step was finding volunteers. Ashley needed only look across the street to her neighbors, Sarah Seibold and Lee Kidder, for help.

Seibold, now the vice president of the foundation, had volunteered in the past for the Louisiana Chapter of the ALS association. Seibold’s husband, Kidder, was a CPA.

“Fundraising was so out of my comfort zone,’’ Ferguson said. “(Sarah) had that experience and said, ‘Why don’t we do our next fundraiser for Dose of the Coast?’ And her husband is a CPA and is now our board’s treasurer. They have been a huge help.”

The Jason Hoffmann Memorial Foundation, an organization that raises funds to give back to the local community, chose Dose of the Coast as the recipient of their fundraising efforts in 2017.

“When they presented their donation of $10,000 last year they announced they would be raising money for us again in 2018,’’ Ashley said. “Since Dose started it has been full of those types of stories where everything we’ve needed has fallen into place at the right time. Everyone who has worked with us, donated and volunteered have been awesome and we are very grateful.’’

Ashley said she thinks 2018 will be another great year for the foundation. And it could be coming full circle in a way.

The Pensacola News Journal picked up a story about Dose of the Coast done by The Advocate in Baton Rouge at the end of 2017.

After reading the story, the Pensacola Yacht Club called and told Ashley about their Satori Foundation. A sailboat was donated to the club for the purpose of taking out underprivileged children on trips as well as educational junkets. The organization thought Dose of the Coast would be a good addition. Three trips have already been booked for this year and patients are signing up.

“The opportunity to hold an event in Pensacola is special,’’ Ashley said. “Pensacola is my dad’s hometown. In fact, the Pensacola Yacht Club is about three miles from where my dad grew up. So we’re sort of bringing it back home.’’

Additional Information

For more information about Dose of the Coast, go to www.doseofthecoast.org or call 504-641-4629

LEFT: Ashley Ferguson with her father, Donald R. Walker, enjoy a fishing trip that led to the creation of Ferguson’s Dose of the Coast Foundation.

Archives

Recent Posts