KIDS WITH COURAGE: Rourke Wacholz
ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – KTTC is honored to introduce viewers monthly to some of the youngest among us, facing the unthinkable with bravery and optimism. In our 25th “Kids With Courage” segment, Caitlin Alexander introduces us to 5-year-old Rourke Wacholz of Ellendale, Minn.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month– a cause near to the Wacholz family’s heart.
However, Rourke probably wouldn’t complain about what he’s been through. He’d much rather play dinosaurs.
“Even on days when we wakes up and he looks terrible, and you know, he doesn’t feel good, like you go, ‘How are you doing?’ And he goes, ‘Good!’ Every time. ‘Good!’” said his mother, Chelsey.
Rourke answers other questions similarly– like how his medical appointments have been going.
“Umm, perfect!” Rourke declared.
It’s Rourke’s optimism that’s perfect. The journey itself has been less than.
“They figured out that it was leukemia,” Rourke told KTTC.
Chelsey and her husband, Michael, remember the week their world turned upside down.
“It all started on a Tuesday,” Chelsey said.
Rourke complained that his foot hurt. The next night, he wouldn’t walk on it.
A doctor thought they might be looking at a bone infection.
“I got a call at about 10:30 in the morning, and they said, ‘You need to pack a bag and you need to get to the ED,’” Chelsey recalled.
Doctors diagnosed Rourke with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and his case was deemed high risk.
“You don’t expect it,” Michael said. “It’s something that never even crossed our minds that it’s something that it could be.”
An aggressive treatment began immediately, and Rourke responded really well.
Within 28 days, he technically entered remission.
His actual treatment, however, is 3.5 years long.
Now, he gets IV chemo every few weeks and oral chemo everyday.
“He didn’t like to take liquid medication, so he was a four-year-old taking pills,” Michael said. “Just figured it out, then he didn’t have to taste them.”
“I just did that myself,” Rourke affirmed.
And that time his feeding tube fell out?
“One time I had the NG tube and I fell out of my super high bed and it fell out, but I shoved it back in,” Rourke said.
Rourke has been hospitalized many times for complications.
In his case, a fever could prove life-threatening.
But in classic Rourke fashion, each time he’s admitted to the hospital is a chance for this dino-loving kid to see his friends, Dr. Whitney Thompson and Dr. Kara Anderson... and play!
“He takes every one of those complications in stride and with a huge smile on his face. Every time he comes in, no matter how sick he is, we have a lot of fun,” Dr. Thompson told KTTC.
Dr. Anderson shared a running joke she shares with Rourke and his family.
“The day I met him, actually, my foot was broken,” she said. “I walked into his room to introduce myself and he interrupted me and said, ‘Why are you broken?’”
Rourke’s parents said that observation led to a nickname for Dr. Anderson that stuck: Broken Doctor.
“Every single time I see him, he’s just like, ‘Oh my gosh! It’s the broken doctor. Let’s go play!” Anderson said with a smile.
Rourke does have some days that are harder than others.
“We tell him it’s okay to cry,” Michael said.
But like his favorite dinosaurs, Rourke comes roaring back.
If there’s a Kid With Courage Caitlin should know about, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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