He is only 5 years old, but Jonathan Swardstrom has persevered through more trials than most people experience in a lifetime.
His journey began as an orphan in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2013, the toddler was matched with Will and Sarah Swardstrom, teachers from Grayville, Ill., who felt a calling to adopt. One month later, the couple learned Jonathan had sickle cell anemia. This inherited and often painful disease means that red blood cells form in a crescent shape and are unable to efficiently carry oxygen throughout the body.
Days after arriving in the United States, Jonathan was transferred to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health where he was treated for nearly a week. “They took great care of him and us,” Sarah recalls of that difficult time. “He didn’t speak English so they found someone who could communicate with him.” Jonathan received specialized care through the Riley Sickle Cell Comprehensive Clinic. “They were wonderful. They made sure we completely understood sickle cell,” said Sarah.
Every six weeks the family makes the four-hour trip to the clinic, which treats 250 young sickle cell patients from around the region. Patricia Treadwell, M.D., a Riley pediatrician at the clinic, believes they are making steady progress with Jonathan. “The comprehensive care allows us to closely monitor and treat his condition,” said Dr. Treadwell. “We can put him on the proper medications to improve his blood count and ultimately his prognosis.”
Sarah says the most difficult part of Jonathan’s condition is when he has a severe pain episode, often referred to as a “sickle cell crisis.” “It’s hard to see him in so much pain,” says Sarah. The family is grateful for the holistic approach taken by Riley and the Sickle Cell team. “Dr. Treadwell has taken an interest in our whole family, making sure we are all okay and understand everything going on. She even regularly consults with our pediatrician in Illinois.”
Today, Jonathan is a thriving, animated child who loves to play with his cars and trucks and chase his 10-year-old sister Molly, who he adores, around the house. Together he and Molly fill the Swardstrom home with love and laughter. The Swardstroms have decided to show their gratitude toward Riley by giving back. Will, a self-published author, is donating proceeds from a collection of short stories to the Riley Sickle Cell Clinic. “We know that we will be using Riley as a constant source of help and information over the years,” said Will. “We just want Jonathan to stay healthy and be everything he can be,” added Sarah. “Riley is helping to make that possible.”