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Owen Schulte never comes to Dayton Children’s without his bag of tractors. An outgoing 5-year-old, he loves to show his tractors to hospital staff and isn’t afraid to correct you on your knowledge of them, either. Over last five years, Owen has made countless trips to Dayton Children’s with his family and his “tractor backpack” as an oncology patient.Owen rings the bell after completing chemo

In 2017, when Owen was about nine months old, his parents, Amanda and Seth, noticed his eyes shifting back and forth very quickly. After visiting his pediatrician, Owen was referred to an ophthalmologist to further investigate the issue.

There, they ordered Owen an MRI to rule out a neurological cause for his shifting eyes.

“Much to our surprise, the scans revealed a tumor,” Amanda remembers. After this MRI, which became the first of many, Owen’s journey with Dayton Children’s officially began.

receiving a diagnosis

Owen was diagnosed with an optic nerve glioma, a slow-growing type of brain tumor that forms around the optic nerve, which connects the eye and brain. After his diagnosis, Owen and his family came to Dayton Children’s every three months for an MRI and follow-up appointment with the oncology team to discuss the results of his scans. At first, the goal was to keep track of the tumor before starting treatment. In 2018, Lionel Chow, MD, PhD became a consistent member of Owen’s care team to help monitor his tumor.

In April 2021, Owen’s tumor was growing closer to his hypothalamus. Dr. Chow decided that it was time to intervene and Owen began chemotherapy. He and his family started traveling to Dayton Children’s once a month for chemotherapy, in addition to their trips for Owen’s MRIs, hearing tests and kidney function tests.

“There were so many appointments, but we never once dreaded going,” Amanda said. “We don’t go to Dayton to see our doctors or nurses, we go to see our friends!”

making new friends

Throughout his time as a patient at Dayton Children’s, Owen has formed many special connections with hospital staff. Among some of his closest friends are Dr. Chow, Kari Roberts BSN, RN, CPHON and Jeff Kegley, BSN, RN.

“Jeff has been our nurse through many of Owen’s MRIs,” Amanda said. “He has taken the time to bond with Owen, and has never rushed through the process. In fact, Jeff went above and beyond and bought Owen a tractor to add to his collection.”

When Owen started regularly visiting the oncology floor in 2018, he quickly bonded with Kari, too. Amanda said that they connected so well at his first appointment that Owen wanted to go home with her that day! Owen asks if he will get to see her every time he comes to Dayton Children’s, Amanda said.

a special bond

Peppermint sits at the foot of Owen's bed at an appointmentAlong with his human friends at Dayton Children’s, Owen gained a four-legged companion that has helped him stay strong during each visit. Peppermint joined Dayton Children’s canine co-pilots team of facility dogs in 2021. She and her handler, Kara Lucas, accompanied Owen throughout the last year of his treatment. Over that time, Owen and Peppermint have formed a special bond.

“Owen loves involving Peppermint any way that we can during his appointments. And the funny part is, Peppermint 100% listens to Owen and loves spending time with him. It is really sweet to witness,” Kara said.

Owen always pulls a chair to the foot of his bed for Peppermint to sit on while he gets accessed for chemotherapy. Peppermint even helped Owen get through an MRI without sedation for the first time in August 2022. With all of the MRIs he had, this was a very big deal!

“Peppermint helps to keep Owen calm and makes him feel safe and strong whether it be her laying by his side, letting him rub his toes across her back, or putting on a hair net with him while he gets accessed for chemo,” Amanda explained.

take it day-by-day

Owen finished chemotherapy in April 2022. Owen’s treatments helped to significantly shrink his tumor, which has not regrown. Taking it one day at a time was the key to getting through Owen’s treatment, Amanda explained.

“It’s a lot to take in. If you just think about it in small bits, it’ll seem easier and you’ll get through it quickly,” Amanda said. “We had to do it for a year, and it didn’t feel like a year at all. It flew by.”

Owen opens a present with Jeff, Kara and Peppermint

Now, Owen attends Dayton Children’s every three months for an MRI and follows up with his ophthalmologist and Dr. Chow regularly. In November 2022, he had the honor of lighting the Dayton Children’s Christmas tree with his friends Jeff, Kara and Peppermint by his side. It was a special moment in Owen’s journey with Dayton Children’s.

“We wish the circumstances were different, but we are grateful for the family we have made at Dayton Children’s,” Amanda said. “It’s people like this that make unfortunate medical conditions tolerable and easier to get through.”