The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio


February 21, 2014

A Don McCormack column: A matter of the heart

As he prepares to play his final game in Lakeside Gymnasium tonight, Kyle Downs knows his best friend, Austin Tome, will be looking down on him


Heart of a lion

Austin proved to be “good” at fighting for his life, too, even against an aggressive cancer that has only a 10-percent cure rate.

“He was incredible during the entire time he was fighting the cancer,” Kyle said. “He never gave up. He was always fighting.”

In the 31¼2-year war Austin waged against the horrific disease he faced chemotherapy, multiple surgical procedures, liver and pancreas transplants, the removal of his intestines and 60 percent of his stomach, a stem-cell transplant using his own stem cells, hospitalizations for weeks to months at a time, MRI scans, intervenous-fluid insertion, medications, bloodwork and testing, radiation treatment, insulin and sugar testing, pain-management treatments and a procedure on his spine called kyphoplasty, which is used to treat painful compression fractures in the spine.

“He was so brave,” Kyle said. “He was... is... such an inspiration to me.”

Which is why Kyle has written Austin’s names on all his athletic shoes ever since. A standout at running back and outside linebacker in football for coach Frank Hall, a shooting guard in basketball for coach Jim Hood and excellent singles player in tennis for legendary coach Bob Walters, he has carried his best friend with him.

It’s why Kyle has worn Austin’s number — 24 — his entire career.

“Every time I step onto a field, or a court, I think of Austin,” Kyle said. “He’s always with me.”

Which he will be when the 3.8 student heads to Ohio University, where he will study marketing and business and attempt to walk onto the basketball team, in the fall.

Superhuman resolve

Austin’s inner strength was not hidden nor diminished by the disease that attacked him. He was part of every decision in regards to his care, always expressing an attitude of, “OK, let’s do this!” when presented what was about to happen.

“Looking back, even now, I don’t know how he did it,” Kyle said. “His courage was incredible.”

So much so, in fact, Austin was one of three recipients  of the Cleveland Clinic Childrens Hospital’s Courage Award for 2009.

The 31¼2-year fight against cancer only heightened Austin’s steadfast determination to make the most of the time he had left. He worked on new and old friendships, took part in camps for kids, went on trips and attended professional sporting events.

Most of all, he loved being a big brother to Bryce and Gage.

“He never quit living,” Kyle said.

Which is why one of Austin’s favorite quotes  is engraved on plaques that hang in Lakeside Junior High and Lakeside High School.

It was something he heard only a month before his death, but loved it... and lived by it.

It reads, “When life knocks you down, you can choose whether or not to get back up.”

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