A South Jersey Dad’s Story: Parts 3 & 4 – A New Start, Then a Devastating Diagnosis
Sometimes your circumstances in life... call on you to do extraordinary things; things you never expect or anticipate of yourself. It is at these times that you get a true sense of exactly... who you are. Can you reach down within yourself and summon the strength to give a worthy effort to this enormous job? Not all can. It takes an extraordinary person to do extraordinary things.
Others watch us at those defining moments, to see the heights to which a person can climb, and his journey becomes an inspiration for them. That moment is where I find myself as I watch Dan Feltwell of Margate. Dan is the single father of Danny, a four-year-old boy with a rare and aggressive form of adolescent cancer.
Dan Feltwell is an extraordinary man for whom I have incredible respect. Dan has been facing a series of circumstances that are testing his heart and soul, and he is meeting that test and setting a proud example for his son and all of us to follow.
Now, Dan is contemplating writing a book about his son’s struggle with cancer. Here are parts three and four of a sketch for that manuscript with Dan Feltwell telling you his story in his own words. I will try to post additional “chapters” as Dan makes them available. Please feel free to leave your thoughts for Dan and Danny in the comments section below….
Free and Breathing Easier
When I went back to my home with Danny he just had his first birthday, my beautiful boy was 1 year old. I enjoyed every moment I had with him during his first year. I nurtured and loved him like no other, I gave everything I had into being Danny`s loving dad. When I brought Danny home I kept guarded because of what has happened and never let Danny out of my sight. My wife, at the time, tried to put on a show but it was very obvious that she did not know how to be a mother to Danny. This lasted about a month and quickly things went back to what I was used to.
Danny started to get sick around mid-November; Danny was fighting infection after infection he was having high fevers almost every week. I focused on Danny and doctors’ appointments and specialists visits so I did not mind that my wife never came home, or when she did I wished she didn`t. My wife, at the time really became abusive toward me both with what she said and what she did. I knew I had to keep a level head and I could do nothing stupid on my part. I went to Thanksgiving and Christmas at my family’s houses with Danny and New Year’s Eve I stayed home. The month of January and into February was very hard with Danny being so sick and my wife, at the time, running around without a care using prescription drugs, drinking and even had a boyfriend she did not hide. It was very hard for me to stay sane, to not get angry and act on my anger but I knew my son needed me as much as I needed him. I stayed as calm as I could until February 19th, this is when I had enough, no more fighting, no more harsh words and no more could I take. This was the day she told me to take my son and leave, she told me she did not want Danny, she did not want to be a mother nor a wife.
I left that night on Friday February 19th 2010 and on the 23rd I went to the Family Court in Atlantic County and filed for Sole Custody of my son, by myself. I was tired of hearing that I could not have sole custody my son and knew that if I took the foot high stack of papers (evidence and all documentation of everything that has happened) there would be a good chance that I would win Sole Custody of Danny. After a day or two and thinking about what am I going to do, how can I be sure to have my son, I sought out the best attorney, divorce and family law, I could find. Well I found this woman who has an impeccable reputation and a record of court winnings that would make and defendant quiver with fright. In my first meeting with her I did 2 things, the first was to call the lawyer who was representing me and let him go, the second was to sign an agreement with her. Once she looked over all of my paper work and really listened to what I said, plus the text messages and phone messages from both my wife and her boyfriend, she took my case immediately and filed for my divorce. When I read what she proposed to the Court I knew I had found what Danny and I needed, she had the heart of a loving woman but the court presence of a pit-bull. My lawyer combined both my divorce and custody cases in to one divorce case and filed under Cruel and Unusual Punishment not Irreconcilable Differences. This made the court hear me within 6 weeks. On April 6th 2010 after an opening statement from my lawyer and a few questions by the judge, to both myself and my wife, the Judge granted me my divorce with Sole physical and legal Custody of my son! My ex-wife was granted supervised visitation 2 hours a week with many stipulations about being drug and alcohol free and Court ordered Counseling or Therapy. I was free, Danny was safe and all at once I knew things would be so much better for us (Danny and I). I could now go back to work with my family there to help watch Danny during the day and with new tubes in his ears no more ear infections. Danny still had fevers that would come and go and maybe a virus every once in a while but he was so much better and I was too. My ex-wife never complied with the court order and stopped all contact with me 3 weeks prior to Danny`s Second birthday (July, 29th 2010), but I did not mind I kind of felt relieved I could breathe much easier……….
On Danny`s 2nd birthday, Aug. 23rd, we had such a wonderful time. I watched with tears in my eyes as my precious little boy celebrated with so much joy. After eating lots of cake and ice cream Danny opened his gifts but one gift he just took to as if all the others did not matter, this was his very first baseball glove and I could not wait for us to put it to good use. This was a very special and happy time, Danny and I were living with my parents and he really enjoyed being with Pop-Pop and Grand-mom. Because of all of Danny`s ear infections he had a 40% hearing loss, which made it hard for him to communicate. I started Danny in an early child intervention program and in the next coming months he was to receive speech therapy. Now you could really see the difference in Danny.
On Halloween I took Danny all around for his first real Trick or Treat night; he walked up to every door and knocked, then he would say his version of Trick or Treat, which I cherish to this day. Danny became tired that night, more so than usual and I could tell or at least I thought he was getting sick. After another visit to our pediatrician and a treatment plan for breathing, Steroids and a Nebulizer treatment, Danny seemed to get better; he even had more energy than I could keep up with. Now you have to keep in mind that my son and I are very close, we went everywhere together and done nothing without each other. Danny was very close to my sisters and parents by this time but what we shared was just so very special.
On Nov. 12th 2010 I noticed that Danny started to labor with his breathing, I was not scared and this was not bad but I could tell he had, what I thought was, a chest cold at least it sounded so. I called our pediatrician that night and she had me start Danny`s Nebulizer Treatments and told me to bring him to her office on Monday morning, but if I thought something more was wrong to take him to the Hospital. Over the weekend and with his breathing treatment Danny seemed to be a little better but on Monday Nov. 15th I took him to our pediatrician’s office. We started him on a steroid regiment that day to help with his breathing and it started to work. After a few days Danny was breathing better but his stamina just was not the same, he would get out of breath easy. Danny completed 5 days of steroids; he was a little better but not completely. I called our pediatrician a made another appointment for Tuesday the 23rd of Nov.
On Monday Nov. 22nd 2010 I checked on Danny before I went to work, he was sleeping soundly and nothing made me worry. I called my sister to let her know that Danny was not feeling well, she came over to my parents’ house every morning to get Danny ready for “school” then she would take him for me, I told her not to take Danny if he was not feeling well. I woke my father up that morning and asked him to keep Danny home if there was a chance that he was not up for going. My sister called and said that Danny was excited to go to “school” and that he was happy and playful. This made me feel so much better and I stopped worrying. Later that afternoon, the wonderful woman who owns the Day Care Danny went to called me and told me that Danny had trouble breathing. I told her that if she thought it best to call 911 then to go ahead, I left work immediately and called my father to go and pick Danny up. My father called me as soon as he picked up Danny and said that Danny did have trouble breathing but he was playing outside with his basketball. That 1 hour drive home felt like it took all day to get there.
When I got home Danny was playing but I could tell there was something wrong, very wrong. I called our pediatrician and told her I was taking Danny to the Hospital. This is when I started to panic, my heart was racing, I could not catch my breath but I stayed as calm as I could so as I did not scare Danny. I will never forget my drive through Atlantic City, I drove as fast as I could being safe, I ran red lights while beeping my horn and flashing my lights, an Atlantic City Police car then seen me. This officer did not stop me, he pulled alongside of me and looked at me with a gesture of “what are you doing”. I yelled as loud as I could that I needed to get my 2 yr. old son to the Hospital! He never asked why he just turned his lights on and cleared the way for me. When I got my son into the ER the doctors were waiting, no paper work to do, no waiting in the waiting room and Danny was taken immediately back for a chest X-Ray; our pediatrician had called ahead and told them that I was coming with Danny!
Within about 20 minutes the Pediatric Senior Resident came to me with Danny`s X-Ray pictures. He told me that Danny`s right lung was collapsed and that he had a very large fluid buildup in his chest cavity, Danny had possible Pneumonia and I needed to have him transferred immediately to a Hospital that was better suited to care for him. My heart sank; I broke down in tears and cried, with whatever I had in me I told them I wanted Danny taken to Nemours AI duPont Hospital. The AC doctors then called to AI duPont, sent Danny`s X-Ray and made the necessary preparations to medically transport Danny. All of this had taken only about 45 minutes in total, but it felt like a life time. Danny was given a large dose of steroids and put on oxygen at a rate of 16 liters per minute for the 2 hour drive. The Helicopter was ready and waiting but because of the large fluid buildup in Danny`s chest and his collapsed lung the thought was that it would be safer to drive. That Ambulance ride was literally the longest ride of my life, nothing could compare. I was a mess I cried the whole way; I was scared of losing the only person I cherished in life, my son. I made phone calls to whomever I thought could help, but to this day I do not know what I said, I asked the paramedic in the back with Danny if he was ok and I did this about every 30 seconds.
When we arrived at AI duPont Hosp. a full medical team was waiting for Danny. We were immediately whisked away for a more detailed MRI and a lot of blood work. Danny was admitted into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit around 9:30 pm that night and at 10:30 pm I watched as my son’s rib cage, just under his right arm pit, was cut open and a chest tube was placed to remove the fluid in his chest. At this point my sister Natalie, she drove behind the Ambulance the whole way, grabbed me. I think with all of my emotions and not eating all day I looked like hell. Here I am with my beautiful little boy so near death and all I could think of and say is Please, Please save my son! I could not hold back my fear, my anguish and everyone knew it. I think every doctor in the Hospital came to see my son, they had a look about them that I knew something was terribly wrong, I wanted to know what they knew. I sat with my son all night and around 4:30 am I walked out of Danny`s room, I will never forget room #7, and walked over to the Senior PICU Attending Doctor and said; I need to know, I need to know what is wrong with my son please tell me. The very compassionate woman asked me to sit down next to her and I did, I was sobbing uncontrollably, what she said is every parent’s nightmare. She held my hand and said: we do not have a diagnosis as of yet and I am not an Oncologist, then she pulled up Danny`s MRI on the computer, the fluid buildup pushed all of Danny`s organs to the left side of his chest and behind his heart there is a mass that we think is a malignant tumor. I felt as if my world ended, I felt my soul leave my body; I cannot accurately describe this feeling of very deep anguish and pain. What I felt I will never forget I broke down, I had no strength, I was losing my son and could not cope with this feeling. I never left my sons room and stayed right next to him every minute of every day then after 9 days and many tests and biopsies Danny was diagnosed with T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, CANCER. Hearing this, even though I already knew was just as painful, maybe even more so, as the first time I was told. I can`t tell you how I felt other than I felt like I lost more than my own life, I felt incomplete and I hurt more than I ever have……….
I feel every emotion I had then right now.