After surviving cancer, 9-year-old is in the swim

By Lynn R. Parks

Nine years ago, Glenn Fielitz was told that in order to survive, his 10-month-old son had to have his right leg amputated at the hip. Even after that surgery was complete, Austen Fielitz had only a 50 percent chance of surviving two years.
"It was pretty devastating, needless to say," said Fielitz, Seaford, an engineer with the DuPont Company. "A couple of times, we came pretty close to losing him."
But today, Austen, 9-1/2, is getting ready to begin fourth-grade at Frederick Douglass Intermediate School. He is a golfer, plays the piano and belongs to a Cub Scout troop. And he is a swimmer.
"You just look at him and you can tell he is a great kid," said Todd Drace, coach of the swim team at the Seaford Golf and Country Club, where Austen swims in the 10 and under age group. "He works really hard and is having fun doing it."
In competition, Austen swims the freestyle and butterfly. According to Drace, his best time in the 25-meter freestyle is 26.62 seconds and in the 25-meter butterfly, 33.44 seconds. "He has amazing upper-body strength," said Drace. "He is really good at the butterfly and I expect his times to get better."
Austen and his family moved to Seaford three years ago. He has a brother, Matthew, 11, and two stepsisters, Kaitlin Yeomans, 9-1/2, and Cara Yeomans, 8-1/2. His mother, Susan Fielitz, lives in North Carolina.
"He is an amazing child," said Cindy Fielitz, Austenís stepmother. "Full of life and everything is an adventure. He is bright, happy, just a really good kid."

Austen and his parents were living in England when a table tennis ball-size lump was discovered on his thigh. It was diagnosed as embryonal rhabdomaya carcinoma, the less serious of two forms of the disease. Doctors said that the tumor was already wrapped around the bone, nerves and arteries and recommended that Austenís leg be removed."I tried to find any alternative I could," said Glenn Fielitz. "But there is no doubt it was right to amputate. He would not be here otherwise."
In November, six weeks after the diagnosis and just a week after Austen took his first steps, doctors at A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, removed his leg at the hip. When they examined the tumor, they discovered that the cancer existed in two forms: the less serious they had diagnosed as well as the more serious alveolar rhabdomaya carcinoma. "Before the surgery, doctors thought that the surgery would be followed by a relatively mild form of chemotherapy," said Glenn Fielitz. Afterward, "they said he needed extremely extensive chemotherapy, and they dropped odds to 50 percent that he would make it two years. After finally coming to terms with losing the leg, to find that out was even more devastating."
Austen endured 18 months of chemotherapy. He had to undergo frequent tests to make sure that the five chemotherapy drugs he was being given were not damaging his hearing and his organs. Even at the end of the therapy, "they did not declare his cancer beaten," said his father. Austen still has to have regular chest x-rays and blood work to ensure that it has not returned.
"Oncologists are extremely guarded," said Glenn Fielitz. But at Austenís April exam at A. I. DuPont, his doctor said, "Your cancer is not coming back." "We were very happy to hear that," said Glenn Fielitz.
Taking a break from his swim team practice, Austen seems puzzled that anyone would ask if he feels different from other children. He said that he enjoys swimming (freestyle is his favorite race) and hopes to compete this winter on the team at the Western Sussex Boys and Girls Club.
He has a prosthesis that he wears to school, to church and when the family goes out together. "But when he is just out goofing around, he is hopping," said Cindy Fielitz. "It is faster for him on one leg than on two." She said that her husband has always worked to treat Austen as no different from their other children. "He never babied him at all and always expected him to do his best at everything."
Other than needing the occasional piggyback or wheelchair ride while on difficult terrain, Austen is no different from other children, she said.
He is self-sufficient and of all our children, he is the one who is invited to parties and sleep overs the most. Kids love him and all the kids on the swim team always yell, ĎGo, Austen, go!í It gives you goose bumps."
"I am very proud of him," said Glenn Fielitz. "He doesnít let anything stop him and he thinks of himself as just like other kids. He is aware of what he has been dealt and makes the best of it. He is well-adjusted. Heís just a great kid."