Four-year-old Kiersten Sikes promised she would sit in her stroller if she could just hang out with her daddy Saturday at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show. But Zane Sikes, the fair's livestock co-chairman, was working the arena gate at the open beef cattle show.
No problem. Members of the Hernando High School FFA were there to assist.
In fact, the high schoolers are helping in a big way this week with the youngster, who has been diagnosed with a form of cancer that pediatricians and oncologists at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg say they've never seen before, according to her mother, Brittany Sikes.
Kiersten is likely facing surgery soon, the second since she was diagnosed last year with teratoid medulloepithelioma.
"This March, they found a tumor on her liver. It's huge," Brittany Sikes said. "Another's at the base of her bladder."
The latest tumors are, so far, not invasive. But "she will need chemo. The oncologist said it's the harshest type anybody can take," her mother said.
Rick Ahrens, the vocational agriculture teacher and the adviser to the FFA chapter at Hernando High, learned of the family's situation last week. Both of Kiersten's parents are FFA alumni. Ahrens said he mused over his personal philosophy: "Do everything in humble service to others."
Sitting ringside Saturday, Ahrens added, "There's things more important at these livestock shows than winning. It's doing right for kids."
Ahrens' thoughts ran to the chapter-owned pig competing at the fair that was purchased with chapter money, used to teach animal management and that will be sold at this Saturday's youth livestock auction. The proceeds were intended to go to the chapter.
Let's donate the money to the Sikes family, he concluded.
Ahrens approached Wes Byer, the FFA chapter president and its student livestock manager.
"I didn't get the idea out, and he said 'yes,' " Ahrens said.
Ahrens is touting the undertaking throughout this week's fair.
"We have to make sure this kid gets what she needs," he tells folks.
The 285-pound Hampshire-cross market hog, named Coney Island, has been fed and managed by chapter members Amanda Litwinsky, who showed the hog in conformation competition Monday; Madison Stallard, who handled the animal in the showmanship contest Tuesday, and Ali Miner, who will lead it into the sale ring Saturday. Hogs will lead off the auction at 10 a.m.
"We're hoping somebody buys it and donates it back and we sell it again," Ahrens said. "Let's sell it again and make some money for this kid. It may raise hundreds; it may raise a couple thousand."
Brittany Sikes said her daughter's care at All Children's will be covered by the Florida KidCare program.
"It's taking time off from working and getting there, staying there," she explained of the additional costs.
Brittany Sikes is a corporate accountant at Access Health Care in Spring Hill. Zane Sikes works for Trees Inc., a tree-trimming company in Ridge Manor.
An account in Kiersten Sikes' name for receipt of donations has been established at Suncoast Credit Union.
"We've done this before for kids in need," Ahrens said. What he especially treasures about the effort is "it's kids helping kids."
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]