Veteran makes pitstops in Laguna and Newport on 150-mile walk for girl battling cancer

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Jim Hickey and Anthony Hartwell, resident manager of the Marriot Newport Beach Hotel & Spa. Courtesy of Jim Hickey.

A Marine veteran hiked Coast Highway through Laguna Beach and Newport Beach earlier this week as part of a 150-mile walk to help a 10-year Illinois girl living with leukemia.

Jim Hickey, 59, of Columbia, Missouri is walking from San Diego to City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte in support of Elsa Wiemerslage of Waterloo, Ill. who is waiting for another stem cell transplant.

The walk is one of seven Hickey has done around the country, covering more than 8,300 miles, to attract the public’s attention to childhood cancer. He has helped 10 adults and 23 kids on those walks, dedicating certain portions to a person fighting cancer in the area.

Hickey started these walks after his father died of prostate cancer in 1995. A year later, his brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 41 years old and survived.

Hickey met Elsa’s parents in 2017 before walking from Wrigley Field in Chicago to Busch Stadium in St. Louis on behalf of another child battling cancer.

“I’ve been friends with Elsa’s parents since then,” Hickey told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “When I saw on Facebook that she was readmitted to the hospital in July, I decided I needed to do this walk for her. This has been her longest consecutive (number of) days in the hospital.”

Hickey is walking for Elsa now because September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Elsa is not a City of Hope patient and is in the care of another facility, a hospital spokesperson said Thursday. However, a City of Hope representative connected with Hickey after reading a news story about his latest walk.

“If they can help, they’re going to,” Hickey said.

The trek through coastal Orange County has been “a walk down memory lane” for Hickey, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton in the 1980s. He lived and worked his first bartending job in San Clemente.

During a break in South Laguna, Hickey struck up a conversation with a woman who was also born in his hometown of Livingston, N.J., her best friend was mayor of their hometown, and her father was the doctor who delivered many babies of his generation.

Hickey expressed gratitude to The Ranch at Laguna Beach and the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa for hosting him for free.

If things go according to plan, Hickey will reach City of Hope early next week.

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