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 Sunday, July 10, 1994




Profile in courage

On Christmas eve, 1984, Kevin Hutter wasn't expected to live through the night. Today, he couldn't be any more alive.

Of The Morning Call

The story has a familiar ring to it. A baseball player develops testicular cancer, recovers from it, only to suffer a knee injury that interrupts his career again.

"It's weird, isn't it," Kevin Hutter says of the parallels between his story and that of Philadelphia Phillies first baseman John Kruk.

But the stories are also vastly different.

Almost as different as the difference between Kruk's annual income and what Hutter makes as player/manager of the South Whitehall Serpents in the Tri-County League.

Kruk, for instance, was lucky enough to be hit by an errant throw from former Phils relief pitcher Mitch Williams which eventually led to the early detection of his disease.

By the time Hutter's cancer was discovered, it had spread throughout his body; and doctors gave no hope he'd ever recover.

But 10 years after Hutter was diagnosed as having Rhabdo myosarcoma, a severe form of cancer which attacks the skeletal muscles and spreads throughout the body, the cancer is gone.

Now Hutter's concern is the extent of his knee injury and whether he'll be able to return next year to one of the loves of his life -- baseball.

"It was everywhere," Hutter said of the cancer that attacked his body. "Stomach, lungs, lymph nodes. (Doctors) told my parents there wasn't much hope."

He said he was unaware of how bad things were. But his parents, John and Madonna Hutter, knew exactly what he faced.

"When they started talking about life support systems, we knew," Mrs. Hutter said.

Because her mother was also gravely ill at the time, Mrs. Hutter spent her time shuttling between hospitals.

"It was rough. It was hectic. But we just kept our chins up," she said.

They had little reason to be optimistic.

Hutter was being treated at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania but, according to Dr. Subhash C. Proothi of Oncology- Hematology of the Lehigh Valley, Hutter was transferred to St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem because he was considered terminal.

In other words, he was being sent home to die.

Proothi explained that Rhabdo myosarcoma exists in both an adult and childhood form. While the childhood form is often curable, the adult form almost never is, he said.

Nevertheless, Proothi and his partners decided to treat Hutter with the type of chemotherapy used to fight the childhood form of the cancer.

They don't know why it worked, but it did.

"Oh, yes, a miracle," Proothi said.

He said he's never seen such a recovery in his 15 years of practice. Neither have his partners, including senior partner, Dr. Alan N. Morrison, who's been practicing medicine for more than 30 years.

Hutter still has to visit his doctors, but just once a year for checkups. "He's pretty much cured now," Proothi said.

If it was a miracle, the timing couldn't have been better.

John Evans, a childhood friend of Hutter's who still plays on his baseball team, said he and his family were neighbors -- and good friends -- of the Hutters in 1984.

"His mom called on Christmas Eve, very upset, saying the doctors didn't think Kevin was going to make it through the night," Evans remembers.

"My dad and I had some presents for him, so we took them to him in the hospital. I remember we had a Central Catholic baseball hat for him because he had lost his hair."

Evans said Hutter was uncharacteristically rude during the visit, but that the Evanses understood because Hutter was in such bad physical shape.

"The next day -- Christmas -- he called the house, got my mom on the phone and apologized for the way he acted," Evans added. "From then on, he just kept getting better and better."

Hutter first suspected something was wrong when he started losing weight and developed pain in his back early in his freshman year at Marietta College.

"Everything I ate, I threw up," he said. He said his strength was sapped.

He saw a urologist, who discovered a lump in one testicle and suggested further tests. The tests confirmed that the cancer had spread.

Normally weighing 175 pounds on a 5-foot, 10-inch frame, he eventually lost 40 pounds.

Hutter said when his doctors decided to try chemotherapy, the effects were almost immediate.

"The first day I got it, I could tell it started working," he said. "I could actually stand up and walk a little bit."

Six months of chemotherapy cost him a head of hair but gave him something better -- life.

"The cancer was completely gone," Hutter said. But the treatments continued for three years, and later included radiation treatments.

It was during those treatments that Hutter resumed a baseball career that had started when he was 9 years old in the Allentown recreation leagues and continued through his years at Allentown Central Catholic, when he also played American Legion baseball for the Downtown Youth Center.

Evans suggested that Hutter try returning to baseball even though his treatments hadn't ended. "I had my strength back by then," Hutter said. "I was feeling fine, so I decided, why not?"

Evans' father, Jack, was manager of what was then the Coplay team in the Tri-County League. "My dad told me, `I want him on the roster, even if he just shows up and keeps score,'" he said.

Hutter started lifting weights and working out and eventually got himself in good enough shape to play.

Hutter says his brush with death taught him to enjoy life, which is why he went back to playing baseball.

But his experience also had its sobering effect, and completing the work toward his college degree became his top priority. He even interrupted his baseball playing to concentrate on his studies.

He attended Lehigh County Community College for two years, then transferred to Moravian College and finally got a degree in business management. He works as a credit analyst for Dun & Bradstreet in Bethlehem.

Now 27, Hutter served as assistant manager of his Tri-County League team the past few years, but he was asked to take over as manager midway through this year.

"I doubt that many players on the team even know all of this about me," he said.

Actually, few people in the league know anything about it; but one who is aware is Todd Greb, who plays for the rival Cetronia White Sox.

"It's really admirable what he's overcome," Greb said. "Now that the word is getting out about him, a lot of the other guys in the league feel the same way."

Greb said if he didn't know better, he'd think Hutter is just a typical Tri-County League player, no superstar, "but he can hold his own. He's just another guy who comes out and plays because he loves the game."

The league named Hutter its Most Courageous Athlete last year.

Greb said he thinks becoming a manager has changed Hutter a bit.

"He was never one to make waves, but he's really quiet," Greb said. "He always seems to be thinking, and you keep wondering what's going on his mind."

Hutter's mother agrees he's changed. She said he was rather "nonchalant" about his illness, "but that's just his nature. And he really didn't realize how bad things were."

Hutter said the best thing about his return to baseball was that he realized he was "going to be able to do things I never thought I'd be able to do again."

He enjoys his expanded role as a manager as well. "I'm only about 2-6, and it's no fun losing, but overall it's fun."

Evans said that, as a manager, Hutter is "very fair.

"He keeps emphasizing that all of us are making sacrifices to get out there for games, so all of us deserve to play. So he gives everyone a chance. We might be more successful if he did like some teams do and just play 11 guys. But that's Kevin. I don't know anyone who doesn't like him."

Hutter still lives at home with his parents on Jordan Street in Allentown. When he's not playing baseball, he enjoys an occasional round of golf.

He said of his life-threatening experience, "It definitely opened up my eyes. I'm trying to live every day like it's my last. I'm just trying to have more fun."

And while most athletes might be devastated by the type of knee injury Hutter has, he has only one question: "Do you think it'll be OK by the start of next season?"

There was a time when no one thought he'd ever be able to look that far ahead again.


From The Morning Call -- July 10, 1994

Copyright 1994, The Morning Call