When Megan Van Swol was 30 weeks pregnant with her son Charlie, doctors considered her pregnancy high risk because she didn’t have much amniotic fluid in her uterus. During an ultrasound, a specialist couldn’t find Charlie’s kidneys, but he told her not to worry about it.
Months later, Megan and Charlie’s father, Zack Woldt, learned they should indeed be concerned about their son’s health. During an emergency room visit, doctors noticed the baby was anemic and performed blood tests. The tests showed Charlie was quite sick and needed immediate care. “He was always hurting, but he couldn’t tell me why he was hurting,” says Zach. “I was relieved that someone was finally doing something about it.”
Charlie, who lives in Shawano and Dale, Wisconsin, was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Milwaukee. Doctors there diagnosed him with acute kidney failure. Over the next few weeks, Charlie underwent surgery to have his ureter opened, and he received a feeding tube and catheter. After he returned home, he started dialysis—his parents had to hook him up to the dialysis machine for 10 hours every night. He ended up being on dialysis for three and a half years.
The only way Charlie could ever recover was to undergo a kidney transplant. The UW Health Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program is a Center of Excellence. Because of this, and the program’s excellent outcomes, Charlie’s family transferred his care to UW Health and the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
While children who need kidney transplants can go on the wait list for a deceased donor kidney, the best option is for them to find a living donor. Zack was eager to undergo testing, and sure enough, he was a good match for his son. “He’s my boy. He calls me daddy and my heart melts. I would do anything for him,” he says.
On March 3, 2021, Zack donated his kidney at University Hospital and a team at AFCH led by Dr. Tony D’Alessandro, Surgical Director of Pediatric Kidney Transplantation, transplanted Zack’s lifesaving gift into Charlie. Charlie was 4½ years old and stayed at American Family Children’s Hospital, while Zack received care just across the skywalk at University Hospital. Throughout the whole ordeal, Megan says, Charlie was in a perpetually good mood. Just a week after his transplant, he tried to run down the hall of the hospital. “He really had a lot of fun—for being in a hospital,” she says.
Megan says she was especially impressed with the physical therapy team at the hospital, who worked hard with Charlie to help him prepare to go home. She remembers one physical therapist—his favorite—who made squirt guns out of syringes with Charlie.
Now, Charlie is off dialysis and enjoying his life as an almost-5-year-old. “He’s a lover, but he’s also a comedian,” says Megan. “There’s never a dull day with him.”
“Charlie and his family have been terrific advocates for his health and well-being,” says Dr. Sharon Bartosh, Medical Director of the Pediatric Kidney Transplant program and Charlies nephrologist. “We are grateful they had enough confidence in our team’s abilities and our pediatric transplant outcomes to place their trust in us.”