FDNY to recognize 3-year-old Haiku boy

Trucker Dukes, a Haiku boy known for his ongoing battle with a deadly form of cancer, will be sworn into one of the most storied fire departments in the world as an honorary firefighter at the end of the month.

The 3-year-old, whose father, Joshua Dukes, is a Kihei firefighter, will be honored May 31 at the New York City Fire Department’s headquarters in Brooklyn.

“We’re so honored,” Trucker’s mother, Shauna Dukes, said Saturday. “It’s like the biggest Fire Department in the world and has a reputation as the greatest. They’ve also proven to be the nicest guys in the world. It’s been really, really special.”

Trucker was diagnosed in late November 2014 with stage-four neuroblastoma, which means the cancer had spread to other parts of his body. He is being treated at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York – the top cancer hospital in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Shauna Dukes has been staying with her son on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and taking him to treatments, while her husband cares for three other children back home. She said Trucker regularly visits three firehouses in the area and has become friends with the firefighters.

“They’ve been unbelievable,” she said, adding that they are invited over on holidays. “They’re great guys and really made Trucker feel like a firefighter.”

For Trucker’s birthday on April 10, his favorite company, Ladder 13, picked him up in its firetruck and brought him back to the firehouse for a party. Shauna Dukes said that the company is “all his boys,” and that Trucker has developed a “firehouse strut” from his time with the firefighters.

“It’s hilarious,” she said. “I think he was just born a firefighter. In his blood, he just knows.”

New York City Fire Department Capt. Jim Grismer recalled meeting Trucker for the first time after getting off his firetruck on a call to the Ronald McDonald House – where the mother and son are staying.

“I see this little boy excitedly walking towards me with his eyes aglow,” Grismer said. “I opened my arms, and he basically climbed up and hugged me around the neck. It was as if we’ve been friends/brothers for years.”

Aside from his upcoming honor, Trucker has remained busy after doctors discovered a tumor in his brain in November. The tumor was successfully removed and, the following month, Maui County firefighters, police and Mayor Alan Arakawa recognized Trucker as a firefighter.

The entire family also got the chance to visit Disneyland in California at the end of March, thanks to Make a Wish Foundation Hawaii, Shauna Dukes said. The trip was her children’s first time to the amusement park, where they stayed for six days.

“We had a blast. It was really, really fun,” she said.

The entire family has been together on Maui for the past month, but Trucker is scheduled to return to New York for treatment and the ceremony. He will undergo brain and spine MRIs on Friday followed by a full-body scan next week.

Shauna Dukes said that doctors are trying to train her son’s immune system to “seek out neuroblastoma cells and destroy them.” Trucker is part of a clinical trial at the cancer center for brain relapse in neuroblastoma patients.

Since being diagnosed, Trucker has undergone two brain surgeries, a major abdominal surgery, 13 rounds of chemotherapy and numerous rounds of radiation and other treatments.

“Over half his life now he’s been fighting for his life,” Shauna Dukes said. “He’s been through some heavy stuff. Heavier things than most of us will ever go through in our lives.”

Shauna Dukes is still praying for her son and knows her family is fortunate to still have him despite his aggressive form of cancer. She said she would do the same for any of her children.

“We cried at his birthday,” she said. “Last year, we prayed for another birthday, and this year we’re praying for another. It’s a blessing he’s still fighting, because a lot of kids don’t make it this far.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.