BYRON — When Jennie Schwanke got the call, she jumped up and down, screaming and crying.
At about 4:45 on the afternoon of April 15 -- it was a Wednesday, she recalls -- Schwanke learned that her son, Royce, would finally get a new kidney.
"My coworkers kind of knew what was going on," the Mayo Clinic nurse said of her workplace display of emotion.
They've known since not long after Schwanke brought Royce home after adopting him from China about a year ago. Schwanke knew Royce, now 7, had health issues, but when she got him home she learned he suffered from branchiootorenal syndrome, a condition that among other things causes malformations in the ears and kidneys.
By the time the call came about two weeks ago, Royce was receiving dialysis treatments four times a week. But that call brought some quick changes in the lives of mother and son.
He was admitted that Thursday night for surgery, which happened at 5 a.m. that Friday.
Royce had gotten a call as second-in-line for a kidney once before, so his mom had talked to him about what to expect. But this time was different, and Schwanke said she talked to Royce about it leading up to his surgery.
"He knew this meant surgery," Schwanke said. "No kid is excited about going to sleep and being cut up. We talked about going to sleep and when he woke up he could eat french fries and bananas."
She assured him that this was happy news, and that reassurance helped change his attitude.
That Thursday night, Schwanke said she didn't sleep much. In fact, she was so exhausted that during the surgery she went back to the room and took a nap. It wasn't a long one.
"By late morning he was back to his hospital room and was doing great," she said. Hooked up to a catheter, Royce immediately started producing urine, a good healthy amount, which is a good sign. And the recovery has only gotten better since then.
"He was always a pretty energetic kid, but it didn't take long and he was tired," Schwanke said. "Now, when I think he's getting tired he has another burst of energy. Physically he's doing amazing."
One of the best changes, she said, has been watching him eat. That had gotten more difficult as his condition progressed from bad to worse.
"Eating had become a huge struggle. I'd never seen this child eat noodles," she said. "And now he's begging me to make noodles."
Schwanke said that has made a big change in her own life. Previously, she'd have to shop based on what Royce could and could not eat. If she had questions, she'd have to take them to a dietitian before buying certain foods because with his nearly non-existent kidney functions there were some things his body simply could not process.
"It was actually fun to go get groceries the other day," Schwanke said. "Just grocery shopping and not having to worry about 'Will he eat it? What will it do to his lab work?'"
Royce will still need to be careful for the rest of his life. The immunosuppression drugs he will need to take as part of the anti-rejection protocol will necessitate a life of social distancing when someone is sick.
"This whole isolation thing has worked out in our favor," Schwanke laughed. "But if there's a birthday party and someone's sick, he won't be able to go to that party."
Still, the family of two doesn't plan to "live in a box," Schwanke said. Once Royce's dialysis catheter is removed, he'll be able to go swimming. There might be gymnastics in his future. And summer vacations will no longer need to be planned around dialysis treatments.
In fact, Schwanke said, one of the hard parts has been saying goodbye to all the nurses and doctors who have been with them and part of their lives each week for the past year.
"They became like a second family," she said. "There were days I came in having a bad day and they had open arms for me."
Donating can save a life like Royce's
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, nearly 113,000 people are waiting for an organ donation in the United States. Of those, about 95,000 are waiting for a kidney, an organ that can be donated live. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to a waiting list for an organ, and about 22 people waiting for an organ die each day. However, one donor can impact the lives of 75 people with organ, eye and tissue donations. To learn more about donating, visit Donate for Life at donatelife.net.