MARGATE – Single dad Dan Feltwell doesn’t have anything special planned for Father’s Day.
Spending the day with his 9-year-old son is gift enough.
“Father’s Day at home with Danny is the greatest gift I could ever receive,” Feltwell said Friday, June 15 at his Vendome Avenue home where he lives with his son Danny Jr., and his father, also named Dan.
Danny’s keeping one of the presents he has for his das a secret, but he did spill the beans about another.
“I’m getting him two $10 scratch-off lottery tickets because last year, he won $65,” Danny said.
The two are inseparable.
“He’s a good dad because he takes care of me,” Danny said. “He’s nice, he isn’t mean, and I’ll probably just tell him Happy Father’s Day.”
This is the first year Dan and Danny Jr. missed opening day at the Phillies.
“As soon as his doctor gives him clearance, we’ll have our opening day,” Feltwell said.
Danny recently underwent a bone marrow transplant in his second fight with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, an extremely rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Danny was first diagnosed in April 2010 when he was just 17 months old and needed 30 months of aggressive treatment.
“I lived in the hospital room with him,” Feltwell said.
Danny went into remission and as recently as Nov. 30 had received a clean bill of health.
“They gave him the OK to play football and said he was cured,” Feltwell said.
A month later, during an oncology checkup, doctors said cancer had returned.
“By Dec. 28 the tumor had grown twice the size and was sitting on top of his heart and he was critical,” Feltwell said.
The type of cancer Danny has is so rare only 16 children are diagnosed each year, Feltwell learned from the doctors treating Danny. Of the 800 children diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma each year, only 10 percent are T-cell lymphomas and of those only 2 percent have the sub-type Danny has, Feltwell learned.
“We only had one opportunity to save his life using NECTAR protocol, which is usually a last resort, and a bone marrow transplant.”
NECTAR is a combination of drugs that killed Danny’s white cells before a donor’s cells could be transplanted into his body.
Danny found his perfect match and received the Gift of Life on March 27, but it was the preparation for the transplant that made Danny very sick.
“The transplant didn’t scare m; it was the full-body radiation and chemotherapy to wipe out his bone marrow that made him suffer,” Feltwell said.
He has studied every aspect of Danny’s treatment.
“I had to prepare, or I wouldn’t be a good father,” he said. “I have knowledge no parent should ever have.”
The side effects were hard. He developed intestinal tract problems, including ulcerative colitis.
“We had to use chemotherapy to turn off the signal in his brain that makes the intestinal tract work,” Feltwell said.
His son was on intravenous nutrition for four months and still has difficulty eating.
“I never left his side. I slept in a recliner next to his bed and held his hand every single minute. I was the first person he saw when he woke up from anesthesia. DuPont Hospital allowed me to be with him every minute.”
To pass the time, the two did “fun” things together, including having Nerf gun fights in the room or playing baseball cards.
“It was like I was 9 years old in Danny’s room,” he said.
The hospital drew the line when they flew a drone in the hallways.
“For his happiness, I’d be willing to get into a little trouble,” Feltwell said.
Some view Danny’s recovery as miraculous.
Eighty-one days after the bone marrow transplant, he was at home practicing his pitching in the driveway.
Danny learned how to play baseball from his dad, who coached him in baseball and basketball.
“Baseball is something he and I always did together” Feltwell said. “He was so good, we moved him up from T-ball.”
Danny required physical therapy because the treatment depleted his muscle mass.
“He didn’t like it and we needed a way to help him physically as well as emotionally,” his father said. “So, I told the physical therapist, ‘Put a ball in his hand.’”
Physical therapy became play time.
“He can throw a ball harder than most kids his age,” said Feltwell, whose love for his son helps him cope with their daily struggles.
“I don’t even think about it being a sacrifice or a job. He’s my son and I want him to have a childhood and grow to be good man and a productive member of society.”
Feltwell served in the Marine Corps from 198501989.
“He’s a hell of a man. I don’t know how he does it,” said his father, who also goes by Dan. “He has a strong constitution. He was always like that.”
Although Feltwell’s focus is on his son, he has had his share of medical problems as well. A union electrician, he was injured on the job last year but kept working for 10 months to make sure his son had medical insurance.e
When the pain became unbearable and surgery was required to fuse two vertebrae in his cervical spine, Feltwell went on temporary disability.
“He might need additional surgery,” his father said.
In the meantime, the family is living on money from Feltwell’s union retirement account.
“It’s enough to take care of Danny get us back and forth to the hospital for testing, treatment and physical therapy,” Feltwell said.
He said he is grateful to his father and his stepmother, who took them in after a difficult divorce and custody battle.
“When we needed a place to stay, they gave me and Danny a home,” Feltwell said, noting that Father’s Day has great meaning in the Feltwell household.
He finds time to give back to the organizations that have helped his son.
He volunteers as a spokesman for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation.
“I’m an ambassador and Danny is a hero,” Feltwell said. “I share Danny’s story to help raise funds and offer support to other families going through their ordeals with childhood cancer.”
Both father and son will be at Beachstock around noon Saturday, June 30 when a group of bicyclists rom Team Will is expected to arrive in Margate. Team Will is a community of bicyclists who ride across the country and participate in other activities to raise awareness of pediatric cancers and money for research and family resources.
“I don’t think about the future. I just put Danny’s well-being first and live life one day at a time,” Feltwell said. “I just look at this as a not so good moment in our good days. It will pass.”
He said while he is not a drinker, he would like to go out and have a few beers with his friends someday.
“But that might take a while. When I’m sure Danny will be OK, then I’ll go have my beer.”