The East Ascensions Sportsman’s League invited Dose of the Coast to be a guest speaker and share our mission with them! Mr. Goosie Guice with Ascension Outdoors wrote of his experience on the Dose of the Coast trip as a guest of Mr. Ed.
RILEY BIENVENU BOURGEOIS
In line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic, Ashley Ferguson is reminded of her father, Donald Walker. The source of her memories, however, is not quite as poetic as the mere sight of a bird or gazing up at a clear sky. Rather, her attention is shifted at the sight of the bright orange and blue logo of his namesake foundation, Dose of the Coast, which Ferguson founded with the help of her family after her father’s death in December of 2015.
“Even before my dad was diagnosed with liver cancer, he was worried about how his name would live on,” says Ferguson, a fish biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “He knew he wanted to be cremated, but where would his name go if it wasn’t on a headstone?”
A transplant to Louisiana from Pensacola, Walker always enjoyed the water. Countless days were spent fishing, skiing and relaxing with friends and family. After his cancer diagnosis, he was given just 30 days to live, though he ended up fighting for nearly 8 more years. Taking no second for granted, Ferguson and her husband Adam took her father on one last fishing trip. Equipped with a charter captain—something Walker would have considered to be a sin in previous years—Ferguson says the trip was a hallmark of what ended up being Walker’s final two years.
“A year and a half later, he was on hospice,” recalls Ferguson. “In some of my last moments with him, he was still thanking me for that trip. I think it did so much to lift his spirits during treatment.”
After the passing of her father, Ferguson couldn’t stop thinking about the trip and its impact. One night, she remarked to Adam that she wanted to be able to take other adults suffering from life-threatening illnesses on similar adventures in hopes of easing the burden of sickness for both them and their families. Adam, a physician’s assistant, mentioned the idea to Dr. Jonathan Richards at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, and the project was off and running. Richards offered to finance the start of the nonprofit, and others at the hospital quickly offered to help.
“I honestly didn’t expect it to happen so fast,” remarks Ferguson, noting that this conversation happened in March of 2016 and by October the group was a 501(c)3 nonprofit. “It’s been amazing how the doctors have rallied around us.”
In the first year, Dose of the Coast took 83 people on 21 memorable trips on the water. But on the morning of the group’s inaugural trip in Slidell, one of the charter captains came down with appendicitis. Frantic, Ferguson started calling around to find a replacement captain—at 4:30 in the morning.
“Someone told me that Matt McCabe had his charter cancel last minute,” says Ferguson. “I gave him a call and he answered with a tired voice—obviously because I had woken him up. I was taking what was probably his first day off in forever, but I explained who we were and what we were trying to do and he told me that he would be there in 20 minutes. I had to slow him down to let him know that he didn’t even need to be there for an hour and a half.”
This chance encounter with McCabe ended up being the start of a relationship that would be key in the growth of Dose of the Coast.
“The Jason Hoffman Memorial Foundation was looking for a nonprofit to raise money for,” says Ferguson. “After our trip, Matt McCabe shared something about Dose of the Coast on his Facebook page, and that is how the foundation found us. They have since raised over $10,000 for us. It has been so amazing to have their support—and Matt wasn’t even supposed to be there on that trip. It gives me chills, really. This was just meant to be.”
Since then, Ferguson has extended Dose of the Coast’s initiatives from just fishing to sailing trips and personalized goodie bags for those who cannot make the trips. She is looking forward to incorporating events like swamp tours and kayaking in the future.
“There is just something that happens to people on the water. They open up and relax,” explains Ferguson. “And it’s incredible how the fishing community comes together to help one another. The whole thing just gets better every year.”
On April 6, Dose of the Coast will host a fundraising crawfish boil at Tin Roof Brewing Company. With seafood donated and boiled by Boilers Cast Net, the event will also feature a unique brew inspired by Dose of the Coast and created for the event by Ferguson’s brother Drew Walker, a brewmaster in South Carolina.
Ferguson and the Dose of the Coast team, along with a growing group of volunteers from Louisiana and Florida, also host other fundraisers throughout the year, including a live redfish tournament that will take place in May and June.
“The people here have so much heart, and they are always ready to help,” Ferguson says of the Baton Rouge community. “I don’t think Dose of the Coast would have flourished so quickly without me being here. It’s really just so amazing.”
Ashley Ferguson and her brothers grew up spending their weekends on the water. Their father shared his passion for fishing with them, taking them out in the boat and enjoying days relaxing under the sun.
In 2014, her father was diagnosed with liver cancer and began chemotherapy. He became weak, making it difficult for him to take care of his boat, and eventually, he sold it. “It was heartbreaking to watch my dad watch that boat be trailered away,” Ferguson says.
For her dad’s birthday, Ferguson and her husband, Adam, took her father on a chartered fishing trip out of Empire, Louisiana. Captain Mark Trahan was able to take them out on calm water with shade available, and they spent a nice October morning catching redfish and speckled trout in Bay Adams.
A year later, her father was placed on hospice. “Two days before he passed away, he thanked me for our fishing trip,” Ferguson says. “My dad had fished all over the world and caught all kinds of cool fish, but he was remembering the trout and redfish he caught that day in Empire. I think it was because it was his last trip, during a time when he was depressed, and it was with his family.”
Ferguson was inspired to help other people experience what her father did: a worry-free day on the boat with loved ones at their side. In 2017, she founded Dose of the Coast, an organization that brightens the lives of individuals impacted by life-altering illnesses by taking them on sunset cruises and fishing and sailing trips. Adam Ferguson’s friend, who worked at Our Lady of the Lake, loved the idea and offered them funds to begin their work.
“I wanted to give other people who are going through what my family went through a chance to have a good day out on the water. I want them to have something to look forward to other than a doctor’s appointment,” she says.
Baton Rouge’s Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center supports the organization’s mission by putting its patients and their families in contact with the program and by providing volunteer services.
Dr. Francinne Lawrence manages the Survivorship and Integrative Medicine Program at the Cancer Center and appreciates the work Dose of the Coast does in the community. She recalls the wife of one participant approaching her after a chartered fishing trip with their grandchildren. The woman, with tears in her eyes, thanked everyone for giving her husband, who had been battling cancer, a chance to forget about the disease for a few hours and experience life as he had before his diagnosis.
“It is very moving to watch patients who you have followed through tough, sad days, when they were afraid and sometimes in pain from treatment, and see them laughing with joyful light in their eyes and a large fish in their hand,” Dr. Lawrence says.
Dr. Lawrence’s experiences illustrate why Ferguson is motivated to continue her work and cultivate Dose of the Coast into the future. She loves seeing big smiles and hearing stories when her participants, or VIPs, get off the boat after their trip. “Many tell me they thought they already went on their last fishing trip. The VIPs keep me motivated. They are some of the most courageous people I have met,” she says.
Since its beginning, Dose of the Coast has proven its ability to make a difference. From ages 1-87, countless community members have been impacted by the positive influence of taking a break from tough times to appreciate all of the good things in life.
Ferguson shares, “Dose of the Coast has allowed me to witness kindness and generosity. It has put me face-to-face with the fact that life is short. What matters most is enjoying life with family and friends.”
Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Blog
Sometimes the best medicine can’t be picked up at a pharmacy. Dose of the Coast founder, Ashley Ferguson, saw this first hand after her father, Donald Walker, Sr., was diagnosed with liver cancer. Walker was avid fisherman and loved being on the water, but as his illness progressed fishing trips became fewer. Seeing this, Ferguson took it upon herself to get her dad back on the water and chartered a boat to get him there.
Their outing was nothing out of the ordinary. There were no prize fish caught or limits reached, but even though there was nothing remarkable about the day, Donald Walker, Sr. reminisced on it often and thanked Ferguson for the rest of his life.
“I saw the lift that it gave my dad,” said Ferguson. “It put the wind in his sails and two years later it was still giving him courage.” Ferguson said being out on the water reminded her father of what he was still capable of and, for that day, he could forget about his diagnosis and focus on living life.
After her father passed, Ferguson felt a need to give the experience of that fishing trip to others facing illness. And Dose of the Coast was born.
Dose of the Coast is a nonprofit organization that offers free chartered fishing and sailing trips to people impacted by illness. In its inaugural year the program has provided fishing and sailing trips to over 60 people and their families. Ferguson hopes to bring that number to 150 by the end of 2017. All trips are provided by generous donor funding and through sponsorships.
Dose of the Coast provides fishing, sunset cruises and sailing trips for participants and up to three guests. Each excursion is different, offering an individualized experience for everyone, Ferguson said. The trips are designed to give patients a chance to take a break from appointments and medication and focus instead on the adventure at hand.
Ferguson said working with Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center has given her a chance to learn about the importance of survivorship programs for cancer patients as a part of the continuum of care. “I read the Cancer Center’s mission: ‘Lessening the burden of cancer,’ and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
For more information about Dose of the Coast and upcoming events visit http://www.doseofthecoast.org/.
Ashley Ferguson will always remember Sept. 25. It’s her dad’s birthday, and for a young woman who grew up at Donald Walker’s knee, then hip, then standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the man who raised her on the water, it was a day of celebration.
“My dad passed away in December 2015,” Ferguson said. “He was from Pensacola (Florida) and he loved being on the water, and I loved it too. He told me I needed a state job so I could work doing what I loved, and he’s the reason I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Ferguson’s “doing” is a marine biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Remember, she headed up the state’s first speckled trout tracking program, a study showing where and when trout move in Pontchartrain and Calcasieu, the state’s largest coastal lakes, places that produce giant trout.
Today, she heads up the LDWF’s Inshore Artificial Reefs Program.
But that tells only half her story. The other half — the not-on-the-job part — goes back to her dad’s passions.
Cancer claimed Donald Walker just before Christmas three years ago.
“I was missing him a lot back then and I needed to get my sense of purpose back, to do something to get me back to where it all started,” Ferguson said.
And that started her thinking about all the others fighting this dreaded many-tentacled disease.
Ferguson said about three months after her dad died, she began using her husband, Adam, as a sounding board. She said Adam felt her grief, her pain, and, for the next months giving-back thoughts ran races to see which idea would be first.
Ah, yes, a chance to give the ill among us a chance to find the pleasures her dad, and her, enjoyed being on the water.
The terminally ill topped her list, and she knew what dose of a day on the water would mean to someone, and their families, counting the days.
Dose. Coast. Yeah, Dose of the Coast.
It was the cure for her pain, and could relieve — at least for a day — the misery her husband sees on a daily basis. Adam Ferguson is a physician’s assistant at Our Lake of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge.
On Sept. 25, 2016, Dose of the Coast was born. Yes, Donald Walker’s birthday. It helps Ashley remember her second job as Dose’s founder and president and makes life complete for her and so many others.
“It was a lot of nights and weekends trying to get it off the ground, and it’s nights and weekends now,” Ferguson said. “Financially, we have a lot of beginning donations given by family members and close friends, but the first big donation came from one of the doctors at OLOL who said he would support us and fund that first project.”
By September, 2017, Dose of the Coast came through with 21 fishing and boating trips, and are on target to repeat that this year: “We have done 20 and still have family trips and fishing trips scheduled.”
And she accommodated a “cancer” family with a sailing trip from Pensacola.
“We took five families to Empire to a (fishing) lodge,” Ferguson said. “It was an awesome event and there’s a great video online at our website.”
While the highs are extraordinarily high in Dose of the Coast trips, there’s a corresponding low. Like everything like it, money greases the wheels to get down the road.
An Evening Ashore
That’s the title Ferguson has given to Dose’s first major fundraiser, a night of food, liquid fuel and friendship Oct. 27 at Crown Bistro on Perkins Road in Baton Rouge.
“It’s $45 for all you can eat and drink,” Ferguson said. “We’re selling tickets on our website — doseofthecoast.org/shop — and at the door. We’re going to have silent auctions like a (charter skipper) Justin Bowles fishing trip and lots of other diverse offerings.”
And there’s a VIP level for the vip and a guest.
For more, email: Ashley@doseofthecoast.org.
There’s moreRemember the recent years of the Louisiana Saltwater Series. It was mostly a one-day redfish tournament held at various sites along the coast.
It’s back, and Sam Barbera, who ran the series and is now the top man at the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation, is gathering the former series staff for two Dose-benefit tournaments next year.
“We’re going to use the redfish template to raise money for a great cause,” Barbera said. “It’ll be two-angler teams weighing two less-than-27-inches (long) redfish. They’ll be able to have a youngster in the boat, and the kids will fish free. It’s fishing to send people fishing.”
The two dates? May 4, 2019, at Campo’s at Shell Beach, and June 15 at Venice Marina, and Barbera said he’s working on a third site.
“I’m very humbled by the response we received from Robbie Campo (Shell Beach) and Mike and Bill Butler (Venice),” Ferguson said. “It will be good to get a bunch of good friends back together and raising money to help people on fishing trips, sailing and coastal eco-tourism trips.
“And I’m so appreciative of what Sam is doing. I had this crazy idea, and the first person in the real world was Sam,” Ferguson said. “He knows our (fishing) community and we’re eternally grateful for him stepping up and taking that on.”
The two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it, or so the saying goes. But it didn’t hold true for Don Walker.
Though Walker loved the water, cancer weakened him to the point that he sold his boat. So, his daughter, Ashley Ferguson and her husband, Adam, arranged a charter boat fishing trip with him in 2014. A small thing for a daughter; a big one for a dad.
“Two days before he passed away, he said, ‘You know, thank you, baby, for that trip,’ ” Ferguson said. “And I said, ‘What trip? What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘That fishing trip.’ ‘You mean the one at Empire? That was a year ago.’ It just stuck with me because we hadn’t talked about it.
“That was the trip that, literally, on his deathbed, he was recalling. It wasn’t until after he passed away that I really started digesting how important it was.”
So important, she decided, she wanted to share the good feelings it brought her dad.
Earlier this year, Ferguson created Dose of the Coast, which provides fishing, sailing or cruising trips for people with life-altering illnesses. Including family members who get to come along, Dose of the Coast has provided trips for 21 patients and 63 of their family members since starting in May.
Ferguson, a fish biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, approached charter boat captain Sam Barbera, who agreed to donate his time. Dr. Jonathan Richards at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center agreed to help cover the charter operators’ gasoline and supplies. More charter captains and other donors came forward to make it a reality.
For those who don’t want to fish, Ben and Heather Schultz have donated trips on their 36-foot sailboat, Velvet Elvis, out of Slidell. Ferguson also has arranged sunset cruises on pontoon boats.
Finally, Ferguson needed patients, which are in no short supply. She approached Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, which quickly saw its value for patients whose lives have become wrapped up in fighting their disease.
“It gives them something to look forward to and fun to plan for,” said Francine Lawrence, the center’s Survivorship Program manager. “It begins its healing effect just from the moment of signing up and getting the application ready and knowing that is something on their calendar. Just to see them on the day — they’re so happy.”
Anita Taylor, 53, of Baton Rouge, is a five-year cancer survivor whose summer fishing trip gave her a chance to take her mind off the after-effects of chemotherapy and caring for an aging mother.
“It was important for me because I feel a deep sense of diminished capacity,” Taylor said. “I’ve always been a highly productive person and cancer had narrowed by bandwidth significantly, which is very frustrating for me. … Ashley and her team went above and beyond.”
“I think it’s a great cause,” said John Lorio, 43, of Livonia, who made a similar trip while being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “It just gives people a chance not to worry … and just have a good time. It was awesome to spend time with your family and get your mind off of things.”
These trips have an impact that goes beyond the time spent on the water, Lawrence said. Research shows that pleasant experiences and thoughts help the body produce hormones that strengthen the immune system.
“So, in my mind, when I see them happy and excited and doing the planning, I know that they’ve switched off the cortisol, which the body produces when we’re stressed and anxious, and switched on the dopamine and the serotonin and the oxytosin, and I know from the research that they have increased their chance of helping their body in every way possible to do its best at that moment,” she said.
The center’s board of directors presented Ferguson with the D. Jensen Holliday Memorial Award on Dec. 12 for the work of Dose of the Coast.
“It’s really about the family and making those memories with that person and having something to talk about and celebrate and enjoy your time together and forget about some of the stuff that maybe you’re going through,” Ferguson said.