DRIVEN: One man’s mission to help children

Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 9:36 AM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Dennis Schebig is a driver for the Shriners of Northeast Indiana.

He takes kids and their families to and from Shriners Children’s in Chicago.

This time, 21Alive’s Julian Teekaram went along for the ride, as he accompanied little Xyliana and her mom, Ikea.

5-year-old Xyliana Smith has a unique case of congenital scoliosis.

This is her third trip to the hospital and at this appointment, she will find out whether she’s eligible for the surgery that can fix her spine.

Despite her condition, she’s full of life and joy!

Fort Wayne Shriners Gerry Wellman and Dennis Schebig promise to get us there safely.

The Shriners of Northeast Indiana provides free transportation for kids and their families.

Dennis tells us he’s made around 200 trips.

“I retired from the Fort Wayne Police Department in 1999 after 31 and a half years. I keep giving back to my community. It’s the best way I know how to do it,” said Schebig.

At 77-years-young, Dennis says he’s not slowing down anytime soon.

“Long as I have breath, I’ll do this.”

After a rainy drive, we finally see the Chicago skyline.

While Xyliana checks in, Dennis and Gerry wait in the cafeteria.

They could be waiting for an hour or several hours.

But Dennis says it is a pleasure to be here.

“It is not the hospital that you think of as a hospital. There’s just so much going on, they’re helping so many kids in so many different areas. It’s just a happy place.”

The Shriners fraternity is known for its children’s hospitals. Dennis says most of their local fundraisers benefit the world-renowned healthcare system. Patients receive care, regardless of a family’s ability to pay or insurance status.

Dr. Michal Szczodry is a pediatric spine specialist and has been treating Xyliana for 9 months. Her condition means not all the vertebrae in her spine are fully developed.

“It’s unique in a way that it’s pretty severe at an early age. So we unfortunately worry about her case progressing,” said Dr. Szczodry.

Dr. Szczodry’s goal is to do surgery to stabilize Xyliana’s spine.

Ikea waits patiently as the doctor examines her and goes through x-rays. He finally shares his recommendation and it’s not the news Ikea wanted to hear.

“We’re just not very excited about how little she is and the safety of it on a very little child,” said Dr. Szczodry.

Xyliana will not be having the surgery. She’ll have to gain between 8-10 pounds before doctors even seriously consider it.

Dr. Szczodry will see Xyliana back in 6 months.

Ikea does not have a car, so she’ll rely on Dennis for the next trip!

“I had plenty of times where I didn’t have a way home. And they would be like hey we got you! We’ll take you home! They’ll take me home! Like no problem at all,” said Ikea Smith.

Dennis loves children and Xyliana has already captured his heart.

“She’s a cute kid and she’s just happy. And when I gave her that little fez, she just lit up,” said Schebig.

Ikea says this isn’t easy, but somehow Dennis manages to make the three-hour ride enjoyable.

“Well every time I come, I always get a laugh out of Dennis. I don’t know if he’s like a comedian or just naturally funny but he’s very hilarious,” said Ikea.

“I love kids and I can’t think of a better way for them to get what they need and not have to worry about having to pay for it or how they’re gonna get here. We take care of all that. And that’s the best part of being a Shriner,” said Schebig.

Xyliana will work with a nutritionist from Shriners Children’s Chicago to gain weight for the scoliosis surgery. Dr. Szczodry is hoping she’ll be ready in about a year.

To learn more about Shriners Children’s, click here.

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