Last fall, OnMilwaukee.com shared a story about Kaiden Schmidt, an 11-year-old boy living in Bay View, who was diagnosed with what was believed to be an inoperable, extremely rare tumor located in the center of his brain.
Last December, Kaiden’s parents, Michael and Kim, were told by Dr. Sean Lew at Children’s Hospital that suddenly the game plan had changed and Kaiden was going to have surgery after all.
"It’s a pretty scary thing when doctors’ say it’s too dangerous to operate and then they say, ‘we need to operate,’" says Michael.
The decision was based on the fact that Kaiden’s tumor did not shrink after multiple rounds of chemotherapy even though this type of tumor usually responds very well to treatment.
Kaiden’s 10 1/2-hour surgery took place on Dec. 28.
"The surgery was miraculous," says Michael. "They got all of it – every last bit of it. Dr. Lew is an extremely talented, phenomenal guy."
After the surgery, the nurse told the Schmidts that Kaiden would remain sedated from the anesthesia for about four hours, but that one parent could go into the recovery room to wait for him to wake up.
When Kim walked into the room, Kaiden immediately sat up and said, "Hey mom, how was the surgery?"
Since the surgery, Kaiden has been doing very well. He remains on a very strict diet, but has not suffered any long-term side effects from the surgery other than blurred vision.
Kaiden was able to return to school part-time in January, just one month after leaving the hospital, and returned full time by the end of February. He is now 12 years old and in 7th grade at Maryland Avenue Montessori School.
"We feel like we were delivered a miracle. We are thankful and grateful every day," says Michael.
"There have been several miracles," says Kim. "We’re in awe every day of the human body’s ability to heal itself and how miracles can happen every day."
The outpouring of support on both the local and national levels has been tremendous, according to Michael and Kim, and recently, Kaiden was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
A good friend of Michael’s, John Tracy, read the "Curing Kaiden" web site created by Kim’s sister, Natalie Benoit, and reached out to the Schmidts after reading about Kaiden’s passion for writing, acting and movie making.
Tracy was cast in the Hollywood film, "The Surface," which was filmed predominantly in Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. The film stars Sean Astin from "Lord of The Rings," Chris Mulkey and Mimi Rogers, who was Tom Cruise’s first wife.
Jeff Gendelman, a Whitefish Bay native, wrote and produced the film. Tracy introduced Kaiden to Gendelman and, according to Michael, Gendelman "took Kaiden under his wing."
Kaiden was invited onto the set – which was a 1970s-era speedboat – and was introduced to everyone involved in the movie.
"Every one was so amazing, from the costume director to the director," says Michael. "Kaiden got to ask all sorts of questions."
Kaiden says the experience was a dream come true.
"I learned so much. I learned a lot about the process of how a movie is made and the different jobs people have," he says. "I’ve always been really drawn to acting and directing. I love writing stories. I’ve been dreaming of this forever."
Kaiden says his favorite films are "Prometheus," the "Terminator" films and "Aliens."
"‘Aliens’ is the best old movie ever,’" he says.
Gendelman invited Kaiden back the next day and also to the wrap party at Bay View Bowl where they shot one scene for the movie.
Astin was so impressed with Kaiden he made him promise he’d cast him in one of his films some day.
"To have a year as challenging as it was and then to come through it and have this awesome experience has been such a gift," says Kim.
Part of the silver lining of the last year has included authors and artists contacting him from all over the country to encourage him and connect with him, artist-to-artist. One even offered him a future internship.
According to Kim, Kaiden started drawing seriously at the age of 4 and has been writing stories for years. Last year, she and Michael encouraged him to start writing chapters and think in terms of writing a book.
"What he learned from being on the set of 'The Surface' helped him understand how to take a story and turn it into a film," says Kim. "It was a life-changing event. And really heartwarming."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.