In 2009, Charity and Bill Wilkerson were living in Oklahoma and expecting their son, Landon. Six months into the pregnancy, Charity was referred to a high-risk pregnancy specialist.
“The doctor did several ultrasounds and said Landon had only one kidney, omphalocele (an opening in his abdomen), probably had several chromosomal defects, and would likely have other complications when he was born,” remembers Charity.
Landon was born at 36 weeks gestation. He underwent surgery to repair his abdomen, where his doctors found he also had an imperforated anus. They created an opening in his abdomen to allow his body to remove waste.
Soon after, blood tests revealed Landon’s sole kidney wasn’t functioning properly. He was brought back into surgery, where doctors discovered a restriction in his urethra, causing urine to back up into his kidney and bladder.
Landon spent 10 days in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Oklahoma before going home. Over the next several months, he battled a life-threatening urinary tract infection and was diagnosed with failure to thrive. At 15 months old, a feeding tube was placed to help him grow.
When he was almost 4 years old, the Wilkersons received devastating news: Landon needed a kidney transplant.
“We decided the best solution would be to come back home to Iowa,” says Charity, a Brooklyn, Iowa, native. “We wanted Landon to get care at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.”
The Wilkersons immediately felt at ease with Landon’s UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital care team.
“We knew we were in great hands. They felt like family right off the bat,” says Charity.
Landon underwent dialysis while he gained enough weight to have a transplant. Each session took three hours.
“Landon called his dialysis machine the ‘robot machine,’ and they made it so it was fun and kind of like a friend for him,” says Charity.
Landon was put on the transplant list in 2014. After a match from an unrelated and unknown donor fell through, his grandma, Joan, got tested. She was a match.
“In November 2014, Landon was able to, by the help of his grandma, get a new kidney,” says Charity. “When they first saw each other [after the transplant], they hugged and kissed. It was one of those precious moments where you knew they were both going to be OK.”
In fact, Bill adds, “When we are trying to distinguish between grandparents, he affectionately calls her ‘the kidney grandma.’”
In total, Landon has undergone more than 20 surgeries and spent close to 200 days in the hospital. Today, he is an energetic boy who loves Star Wars™ and Legos®.
The Wilkersons credit the progress Landon has made to his team of pediatric specialists.
“It’s been so important to have access to pediatric specialists for Landon because the things wrong with him are so unique that just one doctor couldn't handle everything,” says Charity. “The care team here has been phenomenal and life-saving in so many ways.”
“This hospital is a nice place to be at, to help you be safe and help you feel better,” adds Landon.
Landon’s family hopes his journey inspires others.
“If you’re hearing this story and you’re dealing with something you didn’t expect to have to deal with, don’t lose hope,” says Bill. “Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t quit. Just know you can get through it.”