HONOLULU (KHON2) — Lifeguards save thousands of people every year and make sure beachgoers get home safely to their loved ones.
Now, one of them is facing the biggest and costliest rescue of his life.
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Jason Bitzer dedicated 15 years to saving others on Oahu’s North Shore. He loved his job, helping others and started a non-profit aimed at providing free first responder and lifeguard training to children in Hawaii.
However, he made the difficult decision to leave Honolulu Ocean Safety in late-January.
“I had no intention to, it’s just I have two kids, a mortgage, just all the trappings of being a family guy, and I got a random offer to try and make more money at a different job so I took it,” Bitzer said.
Roughly two weeks later, on February 11, everything changed. Bitzer said he was on a walk with his three-year-old son James when he slipped and fell.
Jason said his son didn’t fall very hard and there wasn’t really anything to worry about.
“That night he [James] woke up like blood curdling screaming about his legs and his hips,” Bitzer said. Jason and his wife took James to the emergency room.
Tests were done, and he said the pain went away, but then it came back again, which led to weeks of tests and doctors visits.
Then, on March 10, one doctor confirmed that James had stage four neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that affects nerve cells in children.
According to St. Jude’s website, there are roughly 800 new cases of neuroblastoma diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and it accounts for half of all cancers in infants.
“I feel like a lot of our first responders are the type of people that, when it comes time for them to ask for help, they fall silent. They feel like they’re the ones that are supposed to be helping other people,” said Wesley Liquorish, one of the Bitzer’s close family friends.
“I mean, look at a lifeguard, they don’t earn a lot of money and they are overlooked. The lifeguards are overlooked all the time, yet you don’t see them dropping whatever they’re doing and going and protesting because if they stopped working, people’s lives are at stake,” Liquorish continued. “Their work is worth a lot more than what they get paid for. Ultimately, Jason, took the road in which he wants to make more money and provide a better life for his family financially, and I’m not sure where his medical status is at the moment with his coverage for his children, but that’s where the financial burden is really coming from and it’s just, it’s timing.”
The Bitzers knew they’d have to pay some out of pocket costs for treatment and still decided they would make sure their son received the best care and have decided to take James to one of the best cancer centers in the country, located in New York.
To help alleviate the financial burden, the Liquorish family started a Go Fund Me campaign on the Bitzer’s behalf.
Wesley and Ayesha Liquorish said, “Nobody deserves to lose everything to hold onto what they love the most. So if we are all able to pitch in and give just a little bit, even if it’s just prayer.”
In less than 72 hours, the Bitzers received roughly $80,000 through the Go Fund Me campaign.
Although Bitzer never wanted to ask for help, he hopes to use any residual funds to help other families that are struggling.
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“Whatever is residual I want it to go to either a foundation or other families that are struggling because it seems the first few months of this is the hardest,” he explained. “It’s so confusing what to do and the cost barrier to get your kid the best treatment is mind-boggling so I just want to help other people too.”
Bitzer’s friends are optimistic that James will beat this disease. Wesley Liquorish said, “I really believe that he’s going to beat this. He’s such a little powerhouse of a kid. And he’s always got a smile on his face. There’s no ways he’s not going to beat this. But he needs help to beat it.”