Kid Captain: Adam Weckel

Nov. 9, 2012

IOWA CITY, Iowa Like most boys his age, 12-year-old Adam Weckel loves playing sports. He enjoys basketball, football, and volleyball. What sets Adam apart from other kids his age is that he does all this with one hand.

Adam was 9 months old and learning to crawl when his parents, Jamie and Julie Weckel of Bettendorf, Iowa, noticed his left forearm was swollen. Julie took Adam to their local pediatrician, who recommended that X-rays be taken of Adam’s arm. The results showed nothing out of the ordinary. Adam’s pediatrician, however, was still concerned and ordered an MRI.

Adam’s parents then met with a local orthopedic specialist who reviewed the MRI and referred the family to Joseph Buckwalter, MD, head of orthopedic surgery at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City.

After an ultrasound and a needle biopsy, Jamie and Julie learned the swelling on their young son’s arm was a cancerous tumor, and Adam was diagnosed with extraosseous Ewing’s sarcoma.

“We were shocked. We were devastated,” recalls Julie. “We didn’t realize babies could get cancer.”

Jamie and Julie met with pediatric cancer doctors to determine a plan of action. While chemotherapy was top of mind, they were cautioned that Adam’s best chances for survival may come with the amputation of his left forearm.

“As a parent, you never want to hear the word cancer, let alone amputation,” Julie remembers, “but we also knew that this was his best chance of surviving.”

“The thing that was always on my mind was several years down the road, if the cancer would relapse and come back in the left forearm, and having Adam ask, `Dad, why didn’t you give me the very best chance for long-term survival?’ That’s what made the decision a little bit easier,” Jamie recalls.

“We were shocked. We were devastated. We didn’t realize babies could get cancer.”
Julie Weckel

Adam was a little over a year old when he had the amputation surgery. His recovery, Julie says, was “amazing.”

“The day after his amputation, he was this happy-go-lucky little boy, drinking out of a sippy cup,” she says. “He was doing things and we were like, `Wow, this kid is amazing.'”

That spirit grew with Adam. Jamie says Adam was never treated “special” – they let him learn things on his own. Adam didn’t hesitate – he taught himself how to get dressed, how to snap his jeans, and even how to tie his shoes with just one hand.

“It never really set me back much because I’d see people who were `normal’ not being able to do some things,” Adam says now. “I had to think of other ways to do things, like volleyball and basketball, but I’ve had a great life so far without having a forearm.”

Today Adam is a healthy, active sixth-grader, and this summer celebrated 10 years of being cancer free.

His parents are grateful for the care they received at UI Children’s Hospital. “It became our second home,” Julie says. “The doctors, the staff, the nurses, they became our family, too. They took such good care of Adam. We can never really say thank you enough.”