West Branch, Iowa

When he was 8 years old, Austin was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer usually only seen in very young children. To save his life, doctors at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital removed his right eye, and he required further treatment for cancer.

Austin faced his treatments with courage and without complaints. He spent his ninth birthday in the hospital so that surgeons could install a chest port to deliver the cancer-fighting drugs. Over the course of his treatment, he endured six rounds of chemotherapy,  five weeks of radiation, as well as countless tests, including lumbar punctures, daily shots, and bone marrow extraction.

Then, that summer, doctors found a spot on his brain. The options were to start another, more potent chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant or to perform a biopsy to determine whether the spot was malignant. Both options had risks and when his parents put the question to Austin, he chose the biopsy. They knew it was the right choice when the pathology test came back negative for cancer.

As much as is possible for a young person undergoing cancer treatment, he enjoys his visits to Ul Children’s Hospital, where he has met members of the football and basketball teams, and has participated in Make-A-Wish Foundation and Dance Marathon activities.

His father Matt and stepmother Jeanna Hills, of West Branch, and mother Sara and stepfather Frank Wilkins, of Center Point, are proud of Austin's positive attitude about life..

"Through it all he has taught us all a little about how to face tragedy," said Sara. While Austin attended West Branch High School, he was a straight-A student and played four sports. More important, "he faces the world with kindness and a winning attitude. We could all learn from him."

Added his father, Matt, "To us, Ul Children’s Hospital is the only destination for a child with a serious illness. It's nice to not only have a facility so close to home, but so good at what they do."

Austin is an unusual kid. He says about losing his eye, "I never let it get in the way of anything." He added, "I just can't say thank you to the doctors enough. Because of what they've done for me, I can play sports today and that's pretty much all I'm about, sports and everything outside."

Matt added, "Being sick is so hard for any child but our experience at Ul Children's  Hospital couldn't have been better. It's not just the staff and physicians, but the network of volunteers and students and all the resources there. Beating the disease is easier when you have a good attitude."