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Kid Captain: Adam Weckel races ATVs, plays basketball with prosthetic arm

BY STACEY MURRAY | NOVEMBER 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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Adam Weckel will zoom past his competitors on his ATV and cross the finish line in first place.
Those competitors will most likely fail to notice his prosthetic arm.

Weckel, a 12-year-old from Bettendorf, lost his left forearm from the elbow down after doctors found a malignant tumor in his muscle tissue before he celebrated his first birthday.

“We had no ideas that kids could get cancer — let alone little babies,” said Julie Weckel, Adam’s mother.

When Adam was roughly 7 months old, parents Julie and Jamie Weckel noticed their son’s left forearm was swollen.  After giving Adam doses of ibuprofen and keeping a close eye on the progression of the swelling, the Weckels contacted a pediatrician.

The pediatrician recommended an X-ray, but when the Weckels received the results, the news wasn’t quite what the young parents expected.

The X-ray came back normal.

A nurse at the local hospital pushed the Weckels to pursue an MRI for the infant Adam, and the MRI indicated that there was something in Adam’s arm, but doctors weren’t quite sure what “it” was.

Doctors referred the family to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and the hospital performed a biopsy on Adam’s tumor following an ultrasound.

“At that time, we weren’t expecting cancer,” Julie Weckel said.  “But we knew it was something.”

On July 20, 2001, doctors told the Weckel family something that would undoubtedly change their lives — infant Adam had cancer.

“Adam was our first child,” Julie said.  ”No one tells you in the parenting books that your child may get cancer.”

But Adam’s cancer won’t be found in parenting books — it’s a rarity even in the medical world.

“It’s very rare in a child that age,” said orthopedic-surgery Porfessor Joseph Buckwalter.  “Cancers of any kind are very rare, and cancers in the musculoskeletal tissues are very rare.”

The initial mystery was solved.  Adam’s X-rays showed no tumor because the cancer didn’t exist in his bones.

He underwent four rounds of inpatient chemotherapy, and following the fourth round, Adam’s doctors decided an amputation would be in his best interest.

“Our first concern is giving the patient the very best chance to live out the best life,” Buckwalter said.

Cure percentages ultimately made the decision for the Weckels. With a long-term cure rate of 90 percent for patients undergoing amputations compared with a 60 percent cure rate for those who undergo a continuation of chemotherapy, the Weckels pursued an amputation to be performed by Buckwalter.

After the surgery, Adam continued receiving chemotherapy undergoing a round of treatment every three weeks alternating between three and five daylong sessions.  After three months, Adam was cleared for a prosthetic arm.

Adam recovered quickly, causing his parents to try to keep the happy, healthy infant off his feet to allow proper healing of the arm as he progressed into the next stages of his life — leaving cancer behind.

This past May marked the 10-year anniversary of Adam’s new, cancer-free life.

Despite a medical history, he remains active, participating in various sports and activities proving that two forearms are not necessarily better than one.

“I just try to play like the kids who have two hands,” he said.

The family said they always felt as if they were in good hands at UIHC and received great assistance from the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago, making the decisions and adjustments easier for the entire family.

Adam, a quad racer, won his first Iowa series race in October with consistent placings this season.

When he’s not racing, Adam plays basketball and football with the help of his prosthetic arm and resilient nature.

“He has an excellent personality to handle this aspect of his life,” Jamie said.

Adam’s personality has allowed him to move past a surgery he doesn’t remember.

“Everyone that comes in contact with him is amazed and surprised by his resilience,” Julie said. “He’s such an amazing kid — you don’t notice his arm.”

Adam, the avid sports fan, loves the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Chicago Bears and looks forward to his time in Kinnick Stadium as the Kid Captain for the Hawkeyes’ home football game against the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday.

“I’m just so excited,” he said.  “I’ve never been to an Iowa game.”


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