Meet Kid Captain Kale Schmidt
The summer before he started kindergarten in 2015, local doctors referred Kale Schmidt to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a life-threatening kidney cancer.
“Kale had been passing blood in his urine, and as a result, our local doctors scheduled an ultrasound of his kidneys,” Kale’s mother, Erica, recalls. “They said there was a baseball-sized tumor in his kidney, and he was a very skinny kid, but there was no lump. There was nothing that you could visibly see.”
Erica and her husband, Mike, were told to take Kale to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital’s emergency room, about an hour and a half from their farm in Goose Lake, Iowa.
Doctors determined Kale was in acute renal failure and admitted him to the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). After more testing, he was diagnosed with bilateral Wilms tumor – a rare form of cancer with tumors in both kidneys – and immediately started dialysis.
Within days, Kale had surgery for a port and dialysis catheter, and received his first dose of chemotherapy.
“Kale had many, many ups and downs during his stay at UI Stead Family Children's Hospital, but he is a fighter and overcame it all,” Erica says of that initial stay.
Later that summer, his kidney function was restored, he was able to have his catheter removed, and was discharged and able to go home.
The communication across the board between the different specialties and teams was always great, They were always there to answer even the smallest of questions, and if they didn’t know, they definitely went and found the person that would know the correct answer to be able to help you.
“Unfortunately, our time at home didn't last long,” Erica recalls. Kale was brought back to the hospital by ambulance just days later and eventually readmitted to the PICU.
That fall, he was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a rare but highly aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and remained in the hospital through April 2016.
“We won’t know if he possibly had the two types at the same time or anything like that,” Erica says of the different forms of cancer. “We will not be able to 100 percent know that.”
Erica credits child life specialists with helping explain things to Kale in terms he could understand and with activities to keep him busy, and the hospital’s teacher for seeing him through his kindergarten year.
“And the communication across the board between the different specialties and teams was always great,” she adds. “They were always there to answer even the smallest of questions, and if they didn’t know, they definitely went and found the person that would know the correct answer to be able to help you.”
Kale was in the hospital while the new children’s hospital building was under construction, and he was intrigued by all the activity.
“We are farmers and he loves any type of equipment and he likes to watch things be built,” Erica recalls. “When we could, we would take Kale out of the room to go to a window where he could watch.”
His child life specialist would message the builders with Kale’s questions, and the construction workers eventually came to visit him.
“One day, a group of them came over and Kale was given a hard hat that they had all signed,” Erica remembers. “And another day they came to help make decorations at Christmas time, and they brought over donations of different types of stuffed animals.”
Kale finished chemotherapy in June 2016 and marked five years as cancer-free this summer.
Now 11, Kale enjoys school and hopes to become a farmer, following in his family’s footsteps.
“We are extremely fortunate to have the facilities and the doctors and nurses in every specialty,” Erica says. “From the custodians all the way up to the top of the hospital, we are absolutely fortunate to have them that close. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.”