Over the next three days, 18-year-old Zoey Kohler will fulfill her lifelong dream to visit New York City for the holidays.
The teen, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, arrived Sunday morning at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale with her mother, best friend and grandmother. Kohler will explore the Big Apple’s finest holiday highlights, including browsing bright window displays on Fifth Avenue, skating at Rockefeller Center and indulging in hot chocolate at Max Brenner.
It’s not the first time Kohler, an Ohio resident, has been to New York, but it may be one of the last times, her family said. She has a rare and aggressive type of pediatric cancer called desmoplastic small round cell tumor.
Admittedly, things haven’t been easy, but the support of her family, friends and other well-wishers has “meant a lot,” Kohler said. “Even though it’s hard, you can push through,” she added.
She and her family flew from Akron, Ohio, to Republic Airport in a Beechcraft King Air 300, a luxury twin-engine turboprop plane. Talon Air, a private charter flight provider based at the airport, partnered with a Farmingdale-based nonprofit called Patient Airlift Services to grant Kohler’s wish. PALs arranges free air transportation through a volunteer pilot network for veterans and for patients.
Eileen Minogue, a co-founder and the nonprofit’s executive director, said that sometimes it was “more than just a flight” — it was about compassion.
“We can’t change her diagnosis, but we can help her along the way,” Minogue said
Talon Air paid for the flight, which company founder Adam Katz estimated at $25,000.
“The least I can do is help her and maybe make a memory,” Katz, of Old Westbury, said. “It is someone’s life.”
Upon disembarking, Kohler, petite and clad in a purple puffer jacket, said that the 90-minute flight had been really nice, and that she was glad to be back in New York in better spirits.
After being diagnosed with cancer two years ago, she was in the city last year for surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In September of this year, a CT scan revealed that Kohler’s cancer was back, said her mother, Manuela Kohler. After this news, her daughter took a leave of absence from college, where she was studying medicine in the hopes of becoming a surgeon.
“This most likely will be her last Christmas,” said Manuela Kohler. “This is the bucket list, pretty much.”
Despite the circumstances, Zoey Kohler maintains a smile. Her friend Jessica Toth, 19, said that this is who Zoey is: someone who puts others first, always with a smile.
“She inspires me so much,” Toth, also of Ohio, said. “She is the strongest person I know.”
After the holidays, Kohler said she was hoping to cross another item off her bucket list: glimpsing the Northern Lights, potentially in Iceland.
“It’s something not a lot of people get to do,” Kohler said.