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The Heroes Project 2018: Kyle

When you have a big fight ahead, it helps to bring a big attitude.

Meet Kyle Klerk, a young man with unbounded energy, lots of heart and attitude in spades. Smart and funny and wise beyond his 11 years. A fighter who stared osteosarcoma in the eye and said “bring it on.”

Kyle was just 9 when he was diagnosed. An episode of incredible pain in his upper left arm was the first clue. A bit of a disruption to his swim team practice that Wednesday morning in June 2016, but nothing that prevented him from swimming fly that Thursday night for his team.

But parents Dee and Mike weren’t so sure that it was nothing, and after a whirlwind week of doctors, specialists, scans and tests they had the answer — osteosarcoma that was causing the deterioration of the bone.

“When Kyle was diagnosed,” says Dee, “he asked one question, ‘Is this life threatening?’ I told him yes. He thought for a minute and then said, “Nope, not for me. God and I’ve got this. We’re going to kick cancer’s butt!”

The start of treatment brought that first needle stick and Kyle was not a fan.  IV’s, he says, were the worst part of treatment. So Kyle came up with a diversionary plan. He told Dee, “I’m going to find something good, a blessing everyday and everyday make someone laugh or smile.”

“This was his attitude and goal all throughout his treatment and he accomplished it!” Dee says. “Because of this he had a major positive impact on everyone around him.”

Kyle’s tumor was contained to his arm. He had 18 rounds of chemo, with surgery sandwiched midway through. A part of his bone was removed, replaced with a cadaver bone. “It was the best outcome we could have hoped for with his diagnosis,” says Dee. “We were blessed.”

The “healthiest sick kid you ever saw” brought his trademark attitude to treatment and to everyone he encountered at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). He showed up for chemo with bright blue hair – to enjoy before he lost it. “The nurses had never quite seen that color of blue,” remembers Dee.

There is a list of “positives” about this fight. “Free food!” says Kyle. “There’s a menu in the (hospital) room and you can order anything you want.” Bingo nights were a plus as were the friends he’s made along the way.

At the top of the plus list? A Make a Wish trip to Australia for Kyle, sister Makayla, Dee and Mike, and the best souvenir ever – a traditional kangaroo skin outback hat.

Kyle uses his ebullient spirit to encourage others and often speaks about his experience. Active treatment is over and he’s been back in the pool since last summer.  Not surprisingly, his next challenge is also aimed at helping others. He’s participating in Swim Across America this summer to raise money for CHOA.