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With eyes on police, young brothers battle eye condition
Rick Bussler & Kay Fate, Staff Writers
“I don’t want them to lose all their childhood joy. They love police.”
-Anna Passe, Family Friend

Two Hayfield brothers are getting an early jump on their dreams of becoming police officers, though their dreams may be just that.

“You’re going to be my deputies for a day,” Sheriff Lon Thiele told the boys after presenting them with sticker badges and patches. “I remember the first time I got my badge an how gracious I was,” Thiele said.

After the sheriff made his presentation, Jaxx Swanson, 8, and his brother, Ryker, 7, met a couple sergeants from the Steele County Sheriff’s Office. The Swansons soon slipped behind the controls of police cruisers Thursday afternoon with the help of the veteran deputies.

“Just remember my car is cooler,” Sgt. Smith told the boys. Jaxx quickly responded, “I call going with him.”

Once they got a crash course on all the gadgets available inside the squads, the Swansons hit the streets under the watchful eye of the deputies. Sgt. Smith took Jaxx while Sgt. Chad Forystek welcomed Ryker into his police cruiser.

But Ryker and Jax may have a conflict of interest: They are also sworn officers for the Blooming Prairie Police Department.

Police Chief Greg Skillestad swore the boys in during the July 11 City Council meeting, along with Officer Brad Busho.

“I just met you on the Fourth of July, didn’t I?” Skillestad asked the brothers, who were surprised by the attention.

“I had no idea you guys were interested in law enforcement, but you are, so it’s a pleasure to have you here – and I’m going to swear you all in together,” he said.

Typically, Skillestad has the officer read the oath, but in this case of young readers, he instead had them repeat the oath as he gave it.

The chief then gave the Swanson boys a job:

“This means, when you’re here – especially on the Fourth of July – if there’s something that goes on, and it needs to be reported, you call us, OK?”

While the Swanson boys are passionate about law enforcement, it’s unlikely their dream will ever become reality. They both suffer from Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a disease inherited from their mother, Steph Swanson. LHON causes loss of eyesight, starting with painless blurriness.

“It’s very uncommon and doesn’t usually affect kids,” said Anna Passe, a friend of the family.

Ryker was first to be diagnosed with the condition two years ago when his eyes weren’t working properly. “At first they thought he had a brain tumor,” Passe said, adding he was quickly referred for corrective lenses.

“He can only see out of his peripherals, and can’t see straight forward,” Passe said of Ryker. “It doesn’t track and it looks like a lazy eye,” she said. She noted his left eye is worse than the other.

Ryker suffers headaches and can often be found wearing caps and sunglasses.

“We have to make things bigger for him, and we have to be patient with him,” Passe said. She added Ryker is self conscious of his condition and doesn’t like people to know he can’t see.

Though he has no vision problems at this time, Jaxx got tested for LHON and found out he also has it. He has shown signs in a different way—through tremors and heart complications. “His heart goes super, super fast,” Passe said.

Passe said as the children get older, they will begin to show symptoms similar to patients who have multiple sclerosis. LHON, she said, will eventually affect other parts of their bodies.

“It’s going to get worse as they get older,” she said, adding there is no cure for LHON. He has been forced to take a medication that is not covered by insurance.

LHON is often misdiagnosed, according to Passe. However, a doctor at Mayo Clinic was able to diagnose it with Ryker.

Passe has established a GoFundMe fundraiser to help the family with medical expenses.

Ryker will be in second grade and Jaxx in third grade at Hayfield Public Schools where their mother also works as a para-professional. Their father, Lynn, works in Waseca and serves as a volunteer firefighter in Hayfield.

While Passe realizes the boys likely won’t be able to be police officers, she is on a mission to help the boys embrace life.

“They just live life the best they can and tackle what comes to them,” she says. “I don’t want them to lose all their childhood joy. They love police.”

Sheriff Thiele first met the boys at GEM Days in Owatonna. “They were all smiles and I thought I’ll put bigger smiles on them,” he said. That’s when he invited them to come back another day to the Law Enforcement Center.

“This is touching, so precious,” Thiele said. “These two children could lose their eyesight.”

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