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Dukes family spreading aloha across U.S.

Renee Suzuki (from left), holding son Elijah; Kurt Suzuki, holding son Kainoah; Indiana Dukes; Shauna Dukes; Jedi Dukes; Erin McFarland, a family friend of the Dukeses; Mac Dukes and Joshua Dukes pose for a photo at SunTrust Park in Atlanta on May 19. The Dukeses, who lost 3-year-old Trucker to neuroblastoma in March, are on a tour to visit those who helped the family and to bless strangers along the way in Trucker’s memory.

The family of 3-year-old Trucker Dukes, who died in March after a battle with neuroblastoma, are on a tour to thank those who helped and to offer blessings to strangers in Trucker’s memory.

The Dukeses’ #TruckerRidesWithUs tour took family members to Atlanta to see Maui native Kurt Suzuki play a major league baseball game May 19. Suzuki’s Atlanta Braves battled the Washington Nationals at SunTrust Park that night.

The Suzukis offered financial and emotional support to Trucker and his family as the boy battled the disease. Earlier this month, they hosted Joshua and Shauna Dukes and their daughter, Indiana, 11, and two sons, Mac, 9, and Jedi, 8, for four days at their Georgia home, said Renee Suzuki, Kurt’s wife, in an email.

They first heard about Trucker’s battle with neuroblastoma through Kurt’s mom, Kathleen Suzuki, Renee Suzuki said. Kathleen asked if they wanted to buy a T-shirt as a fundraiser that mutual friends had organized for the Dukes family.

“We looked into the family’s story and learned Trucker was only 6 months older than our son Kainoah,” Renee Suzuki said. “From that point on, our friendship and desire to help the (Dukeses) during Trucker’s battle grew so strongly.

Atlanta Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki, a Maui native, signs a baseball as Indiana Dukes (left), Kainoah Suzuki (reaching to give baseball) and Mac Dukes watch May 19 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta before the Braves’ game against the Washington Nationals. The Dukes family is on its #TruckerRidesWithUs tour visiting the people who helped during Trucker’s battle with neuroblastoma and blessing strangers along the way.

“Our hearts ached for them!”

On their #TruckerRidesWithUs tour, the Dukeses are on a family trip and visiting the people who helped them during Trucker’s battle. Shauna Dukes told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the trip, which began April 1 in San Francisco and will last several months, was, in part, for Trucker’s brothers and sister, who sacrificed during his 2¢-year battle against the disease.

The Dukeses are also offering blessings to others along the way in Trucker’s memory, paying for strangers’ coffee, gas, groceries and restaurant bill, according to the newspaper’s story.

“When these blessings take place, they leave a photo card with Trucker’s picture on it,” Renee Suzuki said. “On the back of the card, it explains Trucker’s fight with neuroblastoma in hopes that people continue to repay the blessings forward in Trucker’s name.”

Trucker died March 3. In late 2014, at 19 months old, he was diagnosed with a fast-growing tumor that had spread to 50 percent of his body. He spent much of his life undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment and life-threatening surgeries. He spent Thanksgiving 2015 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where a new brain tumor was discovered. The brain tumor was removed but the cancer continued to spread. Last fall, Trucker’s parents decided to stop treatments and to bring him home.

His short life touched many people, from Hollywood celebrities to local people. His story generated national headlines, and he was named an honorary firefighter by the New York City Fire Department.

Kurt Suzuki and his family were touched by Trucker’s story and the night at the ballpark was right out of the movie “The Natural.”

“You couldn’t have scripted it better,” said Renee Suzuki.

The Dukeses were invited to batting practice and were the subject of a pregame ceremony and video tribute by Kurt Suzuki, shown on the jumbo screen in the outfield.

“The video talked about our families’ relationship and what an inspiring child Trucker was and how he continues to inspire so many people around the world,” she said.

Suzuki, the Braves catcher, dedicated the night to Trucker and had two big hits, including a game-winning three-run homer in the eighth inning of the 7-4 Braves win.

“The game was amazing. Kurt said he was driven by ‘Trucker Power,”’ Renee Suzuki said. “There was magic in the air, or we believe that Trucker was the driving force behind all of the magic and amazement. It was that special!”

The Dukes and Suzuki children had “huge smiles” the entire night, she said.

In the wake of the night that “we will never forget,” Renee Suzuki said she was reminded that childhood cancer research is severely underfunded and that ailing children deserve more than 4 percent of federal funding.

The Journal Constitution article said that the main beneficiary of the Kurt Suzuki Family Foundation is the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children pediatric division on Oahu.

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