ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) - KTTC is honored to introduce viewers monthly to some of the youngest among us, facing the unthinkable with bravery and optimism. In our second "Kids With Courage" segment, Caitlin Alexander introduces us to 8-year-old Royce Schwanke.
KTTC met Royce and his mother, Jennie Schwanke, at a Rochester park. Everyone involved in the interview wore masks and worked to maintain social distance.
It didn't take our crew long to realize that Royce is an energetic boy. He doesn't stay standing still for long.
He climbed ropes at the park as our crew watched on.
His mom explained how the ropes are the least of the obstacles he's climbed.
"I went into it knowing that someday down the road, he might need a new kidney. Little did I know that he would start on dialysis less than a week after we came home from China," Jennie explained.
Royce has Branchiootorenal syndrome, a condition that impacted the development of his kidneys and ears.
Jennie did not know the full extent of the interventions Royce would need before she adopted him from China in March 2019, but that didn't matter.
"I saw a video of Royce and showed it to my mom and said, 'Look at this adorable little kid,'" Jennie recalled with a smile.
Jennie is a chemotherapy nurse in Rochester.
"Being in the medical profession, it didn't scare me. Thankfully, he has been so brave. Like from day one, he never questioned what we were doing, whether it was what was really best for him," she said.
Jennie has been by Royce's side as doctors addressed his limited hearing, utilizing a traditional hearing aid in one ear and a bone-anchored hearing aid that he wears on a headband in the other.
Together, they've been working to learn American Sign Language. Also, for 54 weeks, they spent three and half hours, three or four times a week, at dialysis.
It was not enough. Royce needed a new kidney in April 2020.
The idea of a transplant was scary, but Royce was up for the challenge.
"A new kidney for him meant he could eat french fries. He could drink milk without restrictions," Jennie said.
"If you have a supportive parent, which Royce clearly has a supportive social network and a mom with excellent parenting skills, that just makes everything much more successful from a transplant status," explained Mayo Clinic Pediatric Nephrologist Dr. Carl Cramer. He explained to KTTC that Royce's overall energy was an additional element of success in his medical journey.
The Schwankes also found comfort in the group Childhood Cancer Community in Rochester, where Jennie is a volunteer.
They've attended events and identified with other families facing hard times.
"That community has really embraced us as well, because he's a chronically ill child as well," Jennie said.
Life post-transplant has meant fishing, time with family and school, where Royce gets to work with sign translators and improve his speech.
Jennie said Royce is doing well, even amid the pandemic. His grandmother makes him unique masks with designs that he likes!