- Associated Press - Monday, August 18, 2014

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Nearly 15 years ago, when Pitt County was left under water in the wake of a hurricane, Lukas Boyd came to its aid, hoisting flood victims out of the Tar River and leading rescue helicopter missions in the community he would later call home.

Today, members of that same community have come to Boyd’s aid, working to help lift him up in his battle with cancer.

Friends and neighbors have been mobilizing efforts since last month, when Boyd, a professional rescue swimmer and emergency medical technician, was diagnosed with cancer following a search-and-rescue training in Arizona. Groups ranging from First Christian Church to the Cherry Oaks Recreation Center swim team have come together to lend a hand to the 36-year-old husband and father, a veteran and former East Carolina University football player.

An online fundraising campaign has generated more than $12,000 to benefit Boyd; his wife, Gabrielle; and daughters Dana, 8, Sarah, 5, and Elizabeth, 4. Supporters have brought meals, helped out with yard work and organized a swim-a-thon fundraising event to help the family with expenses.

“We’re very blown away by how much response and how much support we actually have,” Gabrielle said. “It’s very mind-blowing what’s going on. We have a lot of paying forward to do once this is over.”

But as supporters see it, Boyd paid it forward quite some time ago. At age 21, the Charlotte native was part of a U.S. Navy squadron that rescued eastern North Carolina residents stranded by 1999’s Hurricane Floyd. Boyd’s seat in the rescue helicopter provided his first view of Greenville.

“I flew over the Tar River, and they had a big banner up on one of the roofs with a bunch of guys sitting up there. It said, ‘Hi mom, send beer,” so I decided to go to school here,” Boyd said, laughing.

Following a stint in the Navy, Boyd became a walk-on for the Pirates under former coach John Thompson.

After serving another four years in the Navy, Boyd took a job with Priority 1 Air Rescue, an Arizona-based search-and-rescue company. Although performing air rescue operations at oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico kept him away from Greenville for weeks at a time, Boyd still made an effort to be involved in his community. He was an assistant football coach at Ayden Middle School and helped with his daughters’ swim team.

“He gets his hands in anything that he can,” Cherry Oaks team manager Sean Bieber said. “He’s a very strong-minded and physically strong person. He’ll give you the shirt off his back if you need it. That’s the way Luke is.”

Shortly before his diagnosis, Boyd was diving off the diving board and helping team members with their strokes. He had been experiencing lower back pain when he reported to Mesa in late June to lead a training academy, but Priority 1’s Tina Kube said Boyd wouldn’t seek medical attention for himself until the training was completed.

Doctors in Arizona found colon cancer and discovered additional tumors in Boyd’s liver, lower back and hip. Following surgery, Boyd was flown back to Greenville in mid-July to begin a course of treatment that includes radiation and chemotherapy.

He hopes his story can help to save others by warning them not to let symptoms go unchecked.

“That’s my big thing,” Boyd said in an interview at home shortly after being released from Vidant Medical Center. “If you’ve got the question, then go to the doctors and let them run the tests.”

Boyd, who revved up his workout routine and adopted a more healthful diet about nine months ago, is hoping his efforts have left him in a stronger position to fight the disease.

“I’m too young to leave these little girls,” he said of his three blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughters who were dressed in matching Superman shirts with the words “Boyd Strong” on the back. “I have to beat this.”

Boyd’s sister, Molly Jackson, has witnessed her brother’s strength throughout her life. When Boyd was 7, he survived a bite from a poisonous snake. Just months ago, Boyd saved his sister’s stepson from dangerous rip currents off the North Carolina coast.

“He was always the hero. He always took care of us,” Jackson said.

“He was always the one that had to work hard,” she said. “Nothing came easy, so he learned to work hard at everything.”

Kube has seen evidence of the same work ethic and consideration for others even in the midst of cancer.

“It was never ‘pity me’ (or) ‘why me?’” she said. “Sure he’s had days where he felt worse than others, but for the people who came and visited him or called him, he always had a kind word or he was always trying to crack jokes.

“I think that’s the biggest thing with Lukas. He never saw it as anything horrible,” she said. “It was just a challenge that he has to get through.”

___

Information from: The Daily Reflector, http://www.reflector.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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