Jewell Cardwell

Suburban South Family Physicians in Coventry Township is a bustling primary care and family practice, more than three decades old, where generations of the same families have gone for years.

Not just for the good medical care, patients tell me. But also for the always-welcoming atmosphere its partners have managed to create, dear and glorious physicians in the truest sense, Dr. Al Feltrup and Dr. W. Kevin Lonsdorf.

Since late fall, however, a huge element in that formula has been missing.

Not the practice’s laser-like focus on dispensing good medicine. That’s still intact.

And not the friendliness, nor the well-choreographed rhythm of the office. That’s intact, too.

What’s missing, or rather who’s missing, is Feltrup, who was diagnosed two years ago with terminal cancer. He’s been unable to report for duty since November.

But he was overflowing with praise for how his partner and their staff (including physician’s assistant Janet Smith and Dr. Joseph Marino, who helps hold down the fort two days a week) have really dug in to serve and care for his patients.

A grateful Feltrup credits Lonsdorf with taking the worry off his plate about what would happen to his patients: “He’s taken over the practice and he’s taken on a lot of calls of complicated patients. He’s been a true blessing.”

“That’s what friends, what partners do,” Lonsdorf, seemingly uncomfortable with all the accolades, chimed in. “You step up for one another.”

To those unfamiliar with his diagnosis, Feltrup looks like the picture of good health. Only that’s not what’s going on inside.

“I was diagnosed in May of 2011 with liposarcoma, a fatty tissue tumor that occupied half of my abdomen,” Feltrup said. “I felt an egg-shaped mass in my groin one day when I was working out. So I called my general surgeon.”

A CT scan confirmed a large mass. Aggressive treatment followed, including six weeks of radiation and surgery in September 2011 to remove a 20-pound tumor from his abdomen and pelvis.

Unfortunately, the cancer reared its ugly head again with a vengeance, this time in the liver and lungs. “It’s Stage 4, invariably fatal,” Feltrup said.

Not one to give up — as he would advise his patients — he has undergone five different chemotherapy agents. “None have worked,” he said matter-of-factly.

Even so, Feltrup, who has been on two experimental drugs, is poised to start a sixth chemo in September. His faith, he said, is telling him to try: “I trust in God!” he declared.

“Sooner or later everyone has a cross in life to bear. I wish I didn’t,” he continued with remarkable acceptance and joie de vivre.

“I’m still going strong,” said Feltrup, flanked by his partner and managing a smile during a recent interview. “Life is good! And my faith is strong …

“The real blessing in all of this are the cards and the expressions of love I get from my patients. I’m also on a lot of prayer chains … We’re very fortunate to have the patient base we have.

“Although I have not gotten a clinical cure, I’ve been able to maintain a good lifestyle. I’m still able to ride my bicycle, walk and travel … I’m not having pain although there are other side effects.”

High school acquaintances

Feltrup, 63, and Lonsdorf, 62, have known each other since their days at St. Xavier High School near Cincinnati. They rode the bus together but were a year apart in school. Even though they didn’t pal around together, they had longstanding friends in common and would see each other at holiday parties when they were home from college.

They went to different colleges and medical schools. Neither got into medical school the first time he applied. But they were determined, reapplied, and the rest is history.

The pair reconnected in Akron when they did their residencies in family medicine at Akron City Hospital and have been together ever since, buying land and setting up their practice 33 years ago.

It’s been a solid friendship with common interests like sports and bike riding (although not together), and a successful partnership, both were quick to acknowledge. Lonsdorf and Feltrup come from the same religious background, think alike — well, most of the time — and have an abiding respect for one another professionally and personally.

Lonsdorf’s best man

Feltrup, who has been married 30 years and has four children, was best man when Lonsdorf got married 20 years ago. Lonsdorf has a son from a previous marriage.

“We’ve only had three arguments since we’ve been in business,” Feltrup said. “And those we quickly resolved by just sitting down and talking about them.”

“One of the reasons our practice has worked so well is that we are not clones,” Lonsdorf said. “We respect the differences.”

The strength of that bond is evident in other ways.

“We would do anything for each other,” Lonsdorf said. “We’ve always been comfortable like the left hand knowing what the right was doing.”

Support from staff

Both docs were quick to compliment their staff, which they say is second to none, and not just in this situation.

“Our staff has been extremely loyal over the years,” Feltrup said.

Lonsdorf agreed, adding, “In fact, we’ve had very little turnover. Our employees are second to none and the patients love that.”

The beauty of family practice, both agreed, is that they can develop those long-term relationships with their patients.

Feltrup said his wife, Cathy, has been a hugely important port in this storm: “She’s been tremendously supportive. She’s been a rock and cornerstone throughout. This has been devastating to her, how things have worked out. But she’s been a real trouper.”

“She’s a supreme optimist,” Lonsdorf said.

Asked what advice he might give to the patients he doesn’t get to see anymore, Feltrup was quick with this immensely powerful answer: “Life is precious.”

And with it this prescription: “Take one day at a time. Every day is a blessing. Trust in God. He knows what direction to go in. Just follow his will.”

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or jcardwell@thebeaconjournal.com.