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Kid Captain lives with help from ‘Kidney Grandma’

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The Kid Captain for the Nebraska game always faces life with a smile.

By Marissa Payne

marissa-payne@uiowa.edu

Kidney failure is no problem Landon Wilkerson’s “Kidney Grandma” couldn’t solve.

After he was born, doctors thought Landon, this week’s honorary Kid Captain, wouldn’t make it a year without a kidney transplant. The sole kidney he was born with wasn’t functioning properly, and he faced additional health complications, including a severed spinal cord and severe urinary-tract infections. He was also put on a feeding tube at 15 months old to help him gain weight.

It wasn’t until he was 4 years old that doctors broke the news to his parents that he would need a kidney transplant.

After an altruistic donor fell through, his grandmother, Joan Bonnett, took matters into her own hands and decided to be tested to find out whether she was a match for her grandson.

“I thought, ‘Well, something’s got to happen for his sake and for his parents’ sake,’ ” she said. “… There really was never a thing of, Should I do this? It meant maybe even life or death for his little boy.”

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Bonnett, whom Landon affectionately refers to as his “Kidney Grandma,” said it was hard for him to understand that she now has just one kidney, but the two share a close bond.

“Just to see him in school, to see him playing softball, to see him singing in the choir at the school — all those things just makes it all worth it,” she said.

Charity Wilkerson, Landon’s mother, said the family’s experience with the hospital throughout the years has been excellent. The Wilkersons moved from Oklahoma back to Iowa, where they were originally from, to be closer to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital after Landon was born.

“All the opportunities that are there when you’re in the hospital to have fun, all the people around,” Wilkerson said. “… They do so many incredible things to make the kids feel like they’re not in a hospital. Landon actually sometimes asks me if we can go because he has so much fun when he’s there. It makes it easier when he has to go that he’s excited about it sometimes.”

Watching her child face so many health complications has made the Wilkersons realize that it is still possible to find joy in everyday life and to simply be happy, she said.

“It’s taught us that there are a lot of people around us going through a lot of things, and it’s important to realize that you’re not the only one going through something,” Wilkerson said. “There are others out there who need your help, need your support, need a kind, encouraging word.”

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The hospital goes above and beyond, making the experience positive for both Landon and valuing the parents in the process, said Bill Wilkerson, Landon’s father.

One thing the hospital offers is the Kid Captain program, which recognizes pediatric patients receiving treatment and highlights one child’s story at each Iowa football game.

Since visiting Kinnick Stadium for Kids’ Day at Kinnick in August, Bill said Landon has asked whether he gets to keep his locker and seems to think he’ll be part of the Hawkeyes team.

“It definitely gives him the opportunity to have something special,” Bill said. “He’s missed so much with other school things, and events, and programs that he hasn’t been able to be a part of. To have something like this that he can say this is his and really stick out as something special, he loves it.”

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