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6-year-old raises cash in pursuit of 'tummy'

| Friday, July 13, 2012, 10:24 p.m.
Austin Rath, 6, stands with a check for $61,574.16 at a ceremony where he presented the check to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Researcher Dr. David Hackam on Friday morning, July 13, 2012. The donation will help Dr. Hackam with his research into the development of an artificial intestine. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

Six-year-old Austin Rath is still learning to count, but that hasn't stopped him from raising nearly $70,000 for the medical research team he hopes will “make him a new tummy.”

Shortly after he was born, Austin lost 90 percent of his intestines to a condition known as “short gut syndrome.” He cannot handle most foods or drinks, and has to receive nutrients intravenously every day. UPMC researcher Dr. David Hackam is looking into the development of an artificial intestine that would allow Austin to eat normally.

With a fist bump and a smile, Austin, of Renfrew in Butler County, on Friday presented Dr. Hackam with a check for $61,574.16 at Children's Hospital to put toward that research.

“This is incredible,” Hackam said. “This is a very difficult condition for families — I can't even imagine. What I can imagine is a way to treat it.”

Austin began raising money in April through Facebook, media coverage and word-of-mouth for what he calls Austin's Cupcake Fund. His dream is to one day be able to eat a cupcake.

His mother, Jennifer Rath, 38, said he has no idea the magnitude of his contribution.

“He just started counting to 100 at school,” she said. “He has no idea how much money he's raised.”

Donations have continued to come in, she said, pushing the running total closer to $70,000.

Austin said he thinks that kind of money could buy him about 2,000 cupcakes.

“We're going to continue to do fundraising,” Jennifer said. “We hope to get Austin a new tummy soon.”

What her son is most looking forward to is being able to eat the things he wants.

“I'll eat strawberries and raspberries and bananas,” he said. “And cherries, too.”

“He's shown that you can dream a dream and have it become so much bigger than you'd ever dreamed,” his mother said.

Austin was at Children's Hospital Friday for another reason, too: He wanted to treat Dr. Hackam to lunch at the hospital's Pop Stop café.

With piggy bank in hand, he bought them two bags of popcorn.

“He's going to make me a new tummy,” he said. “So I'm going to take him to lunch.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5644 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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