Enjoying ‘New World’ Adventure

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, January 9, 2011

The future will turn dark for 10-year-old Joey Smith.

Beginning tomorrow, he’ll see doctors and therapists all weeklong. He’ll prepare for two major surgeries later this year. He’llbe prone to seizures and strokes. And one tomorrow all too soon,he’ll die.

But today is bright. Today, he hunts.

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“This weekend he has blossomed back out into our little Joey,”said Teresa Smith, Joey’s mother. “He has never been able to gohunting before.”

In the cold woods around the Georgia-Pacific mill in Monticellothis weekend, the young boy with a terminal illness from NewAugusta forgot about medicines and scalpels for three days andfocused what was left of his energy through the scope of a rifle,harvesting deer on a short outdoor vacation as guest No. 1023 ofthe Catch-A-Dream Foundation.

Though he has trouble eating, he was fed. Though he has troubleseeing, he was seen after. He was showered with gifts andsurrounded by new friends, told “I love you,” by MississippiChristians he’d never seen before.

And with the help of the steady hands of a GP employee who actedas hunt master and a state-of-the-art rifle, Joey harvested twodeer, including a six-point buck.

“This has opened up a whole new world for him,” his mothersaid.

With bright sun, hot food and the smell of burnt gunpowder, it’sa world very different from the one in which Joey normallylives.

At birth, Joey was diagnosed with Trisomy, a genetic disordercaused by the presence of an extra pair of chromosomes, giving him47 instead of the normal 46 pairs. A common form of Trisomy isDown’s Syndrome, though there are several types of the disorder,and Joey’s is not common at all.

His disorder is 8q2 Trisomy. He is the only such patient in theU.S., and No. 17 in the world. He was expected to live only six orseven months, and last May doctors said he would not live furtherthan two more years.

“We take it day by day,” Teresa said. “It’s like treadinguncharted territory. None of the doctors have ever treated 8q2Trisomy.”

Joey’s first surgery came when he was 7 months old. Since then,he’s been operated on 21 times, with doctors addressing everythingfrom heart malfunctions to feeding tubes.

There are two more major surgeries planned for him in 2011. Hereceives physical, occupational and speech therapy four days aweek.

The family got the go-ahead to participate in Catch-A-Dream inApril 2010. In May, Joey suffered a stroke that further complicatedhis weak ability to communicate. Since then, he’s been prone toseizures.

His mother’s prayers are the same every night.

“Waking up and making sure Joey’s alive the next morning. That’smy biggest fear,” she said. “He sleeps with me every night.”

Joey is a rare study, an uncommon patient doctors are trying tokeep alive.

But on the expansive lands of GP this weekend, he was known as”The Deer Slayer.” Helped along by GP employee Ricky Lambert, whoserved as the hunt master, Joey bagged a six-point and a doe beforenoon Saturday with the help of the “dogs” – a roaming band of GPemployees who stalked through the woods, jumping up deer for Joeyto shoot.

He was armed with a sleek, black Remington 7mm-08 rifle fittedwith a powerful telescopic sight that featured a TV display to helphim see the target. Lambert steadied the rifle. Joey took theshots.

“He knows when to squeeze the trigger, and he knows how to havefun,” Lambert said of his hunting buddy. “We’re just trying to gethim a deer. It’s just a good time away for (the family) to forgetall the problems they have and enjoy themselves for a few days. Iknow he’s had a blast doing it.”

Without Catch-A-Dream, children like Joey would not be affordedto have that blast.

The Catch-A-Dream Foundation was created by the late Bruce Bradyof Brookhaven to fill a void left when the Make-A-Wish Foundationbanned activities that dealt with hunting and firearms. As he laydying of cancer in 2000, Brady put in motion the plan that wouldestablish Catch-A-Dream in 2003.

Now, the foundation covers all expenses for children 18 andunder with life-threatening illnesses who want to forget abouthospitals for a weekend and stalk game or catch fish.

It is a Christian non-profit organization that uses hunting andfishing trips to drive home the message of Isaiah 40:31 – “Butthose who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They willsoar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, theywill walk and not be faint.”

The use of firearms remains controversial to some, but not toGP. Even though Koch Industries, Inc., which purchased GP in 2005,established a no-firearms policy on all company property,exceptions are granted to allow Catch-A-Dream events.

“We appreciate the value of the relationships that develop withthe families involved,” said Brent Collins, vice president and millmanager of the Monitcello mill. “This is a strong program.”

GP put the family up in its guest cabin over the weekend andheld a ceremony in their honor Saturday. Joey went home with somenew gear, including a Nintendo Wii and a camouflaged Bible, andCatch-A-Dream Foundation board member Dr. Marty Brunson welcomedthem into the foundation’s family.

“Our purpose with Catch-A-Dream is to point you toward thewonders of the Creator. Joey is going to have a few new trophies,but the real trophy is the relationship with Him,” he said.”Catch-A-Dream has nothing to do with dead deer or dead fish, it’sabout big hearts and new family members.”