A Team Effort - Joining forces to highlight pediatric patient care

Minutes before Iowa’s Big Ten Conference opener against Penn State inside historic Kinnick Stadium, the field clears.

Free from football players performing calisthenics, free from referees conversing with coaches, and free from the cheerleaders continuously chanting cheers, a small, unimposing individual accompanied by a single adult strolls toward the 50-yard line.

Upon arrival, the child’s name is announced. Her story about complications with a past stroke is briefly told to the crowd of 70,000. The announcer shares the news of her positive strides since the nearly fatal medical condition in 2009. The crowd roars, and the child waves joyfully, a smile spreading across her face.

The child is 9-year-old Maddie Strauss of Dubuque, Iowa. She is the Kid Captain for the contest between Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes and Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions.

University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and the Iowa Hawkeyes football program are collaborating for a second year to share during the Hawkeye football season inspiring stories of some of the hospital’s current and former pediatric patients.

Cheryl Hodgson, senior marketing specialist with UI Health Care, says the program has a profound effect on all involved.

“By recognizing these life-changing stories,” she says, “we are demonstrating how we are changing medicine and changing kids’ lives.”

UI Children’s Hospital solicits nominations for the Kid Captains program from parents of patients, with the selected Kid Captains receiving a commemorative jersey and their stories highlighted on the web, in local media, and throughout UI Hospitals and Clinics. Kid Captains chosen for home games receive four free tickets, parking accommodations, and recognition at midfield before kickoff.

Videos of all the kids and their families are published on the UI Children’s Hospital’s web site, HawkeyeSports.com, and YouTube.

Lori Strauss, Maddie’s mother, says the Kid Captain program epitomizes the dedication the entire UI Children’s Hospital staff exhibits in trying to save and heal every patient admitted.

“I think it is such a wonderful thing that the children’s hospital and football team recognize the positive effect being a Kid Captain will have on the children,” she says. “Maddie loves the Hawkeyes, and she and our family will remember this experience forever.”

Maddie was a patient in April 2009 after having a stroke. Originally suspected to be a stomach virus, Maddie’s sickness turned into brief, intense headaches. The morning she was to be seen at UI Children’s Hospital, she awoke having seizures. The diagnosis was a bilateral stroke caused by her carotid arteries tearing. After admission to the hospital, her doctors also discovered severe brain swelling.

Luckily, the doctors were able to avoid performing a high-risk brain surgery when the swelling abated on its own. After 13 nights of hospitalization and 17 days of rehabilitation, Maddie went home and has since made significant progress.

Bill Strauss, Maddie’s father, says he cannot thank the hospital enough for its aid and strong support. After witnessing hospital staff giving gifts, football players reading children’s books, and other volunteers playing with the kids, he says it was difficult for the family to say good-bye.

“It was strange. Despite the intense medical scare our family endured, it was almost hard to leave the hospital,” he says. “You feel so well cared that it’s challenging to leave. And when the football players came in and read children’s books while struggling to fit into the tiny chairs—that was truly special.”

Ferentz says the program is win-win: it helps student athletes keep things in perspective, while also highlighting young patients and the care they receive at UI Children’s Hospital.

“I think the program is outstanding,” Ferentz says. “The overall response to it is very, very positive and it is a great opportunity for the young individuals selected. I think the only downside is that we only get to pick one per game; there are so many worthy applicants.”

For more information on the Kid Captain program, visit the UI Children’s Hospital site.

Travis Varner
photo by Kirk Murray

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Unforgettable night for unlikely star

Maddie Strauss was the pregame celebrity on Homecoming evening.

Fans screamed for her attention, anxiously receiving high-fives from her. Current NFL players and former Hawkeye standouts Chad Greenway and Tony Moeaki joined her for pictures. Rick Kaczenski, Iowa’s defensive line coach, even surprised her with a present.

Maddie looked the part—her all black Hawkeye jersey bore the number 1. Shimmering gold letters across her shoulders read, “Kid Captain,” her role for the night.

Although her jersey was maybe two sizes too big, Maddie was not about to tuck it in. Kid Captains do not tuck in jerseys.

Maddie stood on the 50-yard line as her story spread to the black and gold colored sections in Kinnick, and all eyes were on her. After the tale of her health triumphs, the crowd went crazy, honoring her courage.

Maddie slowly swiveled her small body in circles, waving at everyone, so each person could see her shining smile.

“That was the most incredible, exciting feeling I’ve ever had,” she said.

The experience of a lifetime wasn’t over yet. Just before the national anthem, athletes from the Iowa defensive line walked over and grabbed Maddie’s hand.

As the “Star Spangled Banner” echoed through Kinnick, Maddie stood holding hands with defensive end Broderick Binns and defensive lineman Christian Ballard. Only one word could describe the moment.


© The University of Iowa 2009