People & Places

Meet the 2016 Kid Captains

Abigail Hooper, 12, of Des Moines
Abigail Hooper, 12, of Des Moines

Kid Captain is a partnership that began in 2009 between University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and the Iowa Hawkeyes to honor pediatric patients and celebrate their inspirational stories. Here is a look at this year’s Kid Captains. Photos and bios are provided by the UI Children’s Hospital. Read the full bios at


Abigail Hooper Age 12, of Des Moines

• Kid Captain for Sept. 17 game vs. North Dakota State

In October 2014, Abby’s parents noticed she had swelling in her joints, and four months later her condition had grown progressively worse. Tests showed small vessel vasculitis, a condition in which the small blood vessels leak. Abby’s kidneys were the first and hardest hit by the condition. Eventually, Abby was diagnosed with Wegener’s disease, a disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels in the nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and kidneys.


Kinzie Hemann Age 7, of Reinbeck

• Kid Captain for Sept. 3 game vs. Miami of Ohio

Days after her first birthday, Kinzie was diagnosed with von Willebrand disease Type 3, a genetic blood disorder caused by a missing protein, which leaves her blood unable to clot. Type 3 is the most serious of the von Willebrand disease diagnoses, as symptoms include severe and spontaneous bleeding episodes.


Konner Guyer Age 7, of Eddyville

• Kid Captain for Oct. 1 game vs. Northwestern

Konner and his twin brother, Kolby, were born prematurely at 28 weeks. Kolby died at 6 days old. Konner spent 119 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UI Children’s Hospital. He underwent surgery to remove a portion of his bowel. Surgeons also placed shunts in Konner’s brain to treat hydrocephalus — or fluid on the brain. Four years later, he returned to the hospital with severe seizures. Doctors discovered a shunt malfunction. Today, Konner has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair for mobility.



Liam Young Age 3, of Cuba City, Wis.

• Kid Captain for Sept. 24 game vs. Rutgers

For Liam, what first appeared to be flu-like symptoms actually was a life-threatening infection known as sepsis. His liver and kidneys were failing and then his heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated. Liam developed blisters all over his body, and the infection caused loss of circulation in his fingers and toes, which led to amputation. Liam spent weeks in UI’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.


Parker Kress Age 14, of Bettendorf

• Kid Captain for Sept. 10 game vs. Iowa State

Parker was 13 when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer of the bone and soft tissue, after a mass was found in his right leg in December 2014. He’s had six surgeries, including one in which doctors removed 5 inches of his shinbone and replaced it with bone from a donor. He’s been through 17 rounds of chemotherapy, more than 25 blood transfusions, and multiple scans, X-rays, ultrasounds and physical therapy appointments.


Carley Neustel Age 10, of Central City

• Kid Captain for Oct. 8 game vs. Minnesota

Last September, Carley was involved in a farm accident that nearly severed both her legs below the knees. She has had 12 surgeries, skin grafts, a stabilization procedure to help her bones heal in place and lengthening procedures to regrow more than 4 inches of leg bone lost in the accident. Carley’s left leg has healed, and doctors hope her right leg will be fully healed this fall.


Max Stancel-Hess Age 11, of Marion

• Kid Captain for Oct. 15 game vs. Purdue

Max has spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord doesn’t develop properly. Doctors used ultrasounds to determine the severity of Max’s condition so his parents could prepare to care for him before he was born. Max spent his first month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UI Children’s Hospital. He required several surgeries to drain fluid from his brain and fix the exposed portion of his spine. He’s undergone numerous surgeries over the years.


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Aaron Miller Age 11, of Hawkeye

• Kid Captain for Nov. 5 game vs. Penn State

In 2014, Aaron was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Two months later, his mom was diagnosed with the same disease. To help her overcome the fear and anxiety of daily insulin injections, Aaron started administering his own shots. Aaron checks his blood sugar eight times a day, and he understands the importance of setting a good example, because his sister also has diabetes.


Hayden Despenas Age 13, of Mason City

• Kid Captain for Nov. 12 game vs. Michigan

Hayden has Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare form of muscular dystrophy. When he first came to UI Children’s Hospital, Hayden had just received a pacemaker and was experiencing balance issues. He was attending school just two hours a day because of headaches, stomachaches and chest pains. Specialists were able to find ways to address his pains.


Madelynn Higbee Age 12, of Monmouth, Ill.

• Kid Captain for Nov. 19 game vs. Illinois

Two large masses of fluid were discovered in Madelynn’s neck in July 2014. The non-malignant masses, caused by abnormal development of the lymphatic system, caused obstructions in her esophagus, making it difficult for her to swallow and breathe. Because of the size of the masses, traditional surgery was too dangerous. Specialists suggested using a drug that could be injected into the masses, once they had been drained of built-up fluid, to stop their growth and shrink them. Madelynn received a tracheostomy — a surgical incision through the neck into the windpipe — to ensure a secure airway while the injection was working.


Seth Nelson Age 15, of Remsen

• Kid Captain for Nov. 25 game vs. Nebraska

Seth was referred to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital when doctors treating a concussion from a football game discovered a different kind of head trauma. After a few months, Seth was diagnosed with Chiari malformation — a structural defect in the part of the brain that controls balance. Seth had surgery in July 2014 to repair a herniation on his brainstem.



Emeline Dunham Age 10, of Wapello

• Kid Captain for Oct. 22 game vs. Wisconsin

Emeline has Down syndrome and had her first seizure in 2008 at age 2. She was diagnosed with hypoparathyroidism. At age 4, she was diagnosed with autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome, Type 1. Three years later, she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. She also has gastrointestinal conditions and lung problems that have twice required her to be on prolonged oxygen therapy.


Reed Havlik Age 3, of Jesup

• Kid Captain for potential postseason game

Reed was a healthy toddler until he woke from a nap in November 2014 and was unable to bear weight on his right leg. Reed was diagnosed with vanishing white matter disease, in which the white matter in the brain disappears. Reed’s disease is extremely rare — he is one of fewer than 200 patients worldwide — and as it progresses, Reed is likely to lose the ability to walk, use his hands, eat, hear, speak or see. Therapy can slow the symptoms, but there is no cure for this terminal disease.

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