ST. LOUIS —Three-year-old Kyle McCarty's release from the hospital six weeks ago was cause for celebration: He had spent more than two years of his young life there.
This weekend, his family was celebrating more quietly as Kyle moved from Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis to his home two hours away in Jefferson City. He's had many new experiences in the past six weeks, from seeing fireflies and fireworks to taking his first dip in a swimming pool and a spin on a carousel.
Kyle was diagnosed as an infant with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition where cysts grew instead of healthy kidney tissue. He had to have both kidneys removed as a baby and required nearly constant care at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis. A successful kidney transplant in April allowed him to be released from the hospital in June.
On Friday, Kyle, his mother and his brothers visited the St. Louis Zoo, a first for Kyle. His language skills are limited, but he communicated clearly. He patted the glass when a group of fish swam by him at a hippo exhibit. He let out an "Animal!" when he spotted an elephant. The wide smile on his face when he rode the carousel didn't need translation. He gave the visit a one-word summary: "Good."
"There have been tons of ups and downs," said pediatric nephrologist Richard Feldenberg, among those who treat Kyle at Cardinal Glennon. Before Kyle's transplant, the hospital declined about six possible kidneys, either because they were available when Kyle was too sick to receive them or they weren't a good match for his body.
"He was a fighter and really made it through," Feldenberg said.
Hospital staff tried to give Kyle as normal of a life as possible. He hung out at the nurses' station, and they would encourage him to try to say names and help him play with his toys or color. Therapists and volunteers also spent time with him, and he was known as a fan of "Sesame Street," ''Barney" and "Blue's Clues."
The weeks since Kyle's release haven't been entirely smooth. His mother, Tobey Miller, 32, expected to stay at a Ronald McDonald House for several weeks while Kyle had frequent and lengthy checkups following the transplant.
But, shortly after she took Kyle home to Jefferson City for a brief family visit before the Fourth of July, he got sick and spent more than a week in intensive care.
A paper chart lists a dozen medications he needs to take daily, along with the dose and schedule, and he'll need to come to St. Louis once a week for checkups.
On a recent day, Kyle played with an apple like it was a toy and mouthed a cookie, but he didn't seem interested in eating. He is still fed largely through a port in his stomach.
His family sees strides forward since his transplant, although medical complications still exist.
"If you hold his hand, he walks everywhere," said his father, Brian McCarty, 48, who owns several fast-food franchises in Missouri.
Kyle has been exploring cupboards, petting dogs and taking a spin on a riding lawn mower with his dad.
On one visit home, Kyle's older brother Zachary put lightning bugs in his hand at nighttime.
"They'd light up and fly away, light up and fly away," his father said. "He was thrilled by that."