Like most Port Lincolnites, little Jack Kemp loves a spot of fishing and after months of being in an Adelaide hospital bed he’s counting down the days until he gets to again cast a line with his dad.
The seven year old is recovering after undergoing his fifth major brain surgery in four years.
The youngster was diagnosed with a rare brain stem tumour — one of just 25 recorded worldwide — when he was three.
His operation in March will be his last, there is nothing more doctors can do and his family are now focused on getting him home to his beloved Eyre Peninsula to be with dad, Kain, and five-year-old brother, Saxon.
“He has been nagging at his dad to tidy up his room so he has space to play with his Lego,” says mum Grace, staying in Adelaide with Jack.
“He loves going fishing … he could spend all day on the boat with his dad.”
And while mother and son prepare to return to Port Lincoln in the next few weeks, the tight-knit Spencer Gulf community has been doing its utmost to make it a grand homecoming.
Spearheaded by a local radio network, big-hearted locals have raised more than $ 75,000 to help the family make the most of their time left with Jack.
“If we could have given a million times more to not have this family go through what they are, we would,” says Eyre Peninsula Broadcasters’ Darren Allard.
Mr Allard, who is general manager of radio stations 89.9 and 5CC which raised almost $ 50,000 during a 10-hour synchronised “radioathon”, says the final total far exceeded expectations, adding to $ 23,000 donated by several local businesses as well as additional donations since to crowdsourcing platform, GoFundMe.
“The generosity and compassion from the community in which we live (is) hard to put into words — we raised $ 35,000 in four hours,” Mr Allard says.
Mrs Kemp, 42, says she and her husband, 41, have been overwhelmed by the support, tearing up when asked if it provides the family with strength.
“Yes … I felt very emotional and humbled when I heard what our community had done for us — I just wanted to go home to say thank you,” she said.
“Port Lincoln has, and will always be, home … it is not just with Jack, whenever there is a crisis, or someone is in need, the community always pulls together to help each other out — rural communities are just different, the people are sincere and have your back.
“We just want to get Jack home now, he is in reasonably good spirits considering what he has been through — he is not up and mobile but still jokes around and is pretty much as cheeky as ever.”
Mrs Kemp says medical staff from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital are working with health authorities in Port Lincoln to pave the way for Jack to head home.
In the meantime she is staying with Jack at Ronald McDonald House being supported by her “Ronald McDonald family”, who “prop you up and keep you going”.
Long-time friend and Port Lincoln publican Katherine Arthur, also a mum of two, set up the GoFundMe “Thumbs up for Jack” fundraiser page, into which money from the “radioathon” was channelled.
“Anyone that knows the Kemp family are aware they are not ones to ask for help, they fight silently and bravely,” she says.
“Jack is the most incredible little boy — he is clever, cheeky and charismatic … (his) trademark ‘thumbs up’, despite how unwell he is, keeps his family in awe of his strength and determination — he is resilient and wise beyond his years.
“When faced with the heartbreaking decision to operate for the last time and hope for the best, or take him home to enjoy the time they had left, he told his family to ‘go for it, you don’t know if you don’t try!’”
Mrs Kemp says she won’t ever give up on a miracle.
“Just the thought of losing your child, no one should have to do that … you always hope that one day you will wake up and find this has just been a complete nightmare, that it isn’t real,” she says.