Mary and Kirk Ferentz give $1 million toward premature infant research at the University of Iowa children's hospital

Donation given in memory of granddaughter 'born too early'

(File photo) Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz watches his team practice during Kids’ Day at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, August 12, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
(File photo) Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz watches his team practice during Kids’ Day at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, August 12, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital is creating a new “Savvy Ferentz Program in Neonatal Research” with a $1 million gift Kirk and Mary Ferentz have committed in support of research to improve premature infant survival rates.

The couple made the donation in memory of their granddaughter, Savvy Elizabeth, who was born in August 2014 at under 22 weeks gestation, according to the UI Foundation. She did not survive.

“We knew Savvy was born too early,” Mary Ferentz said in a statement. “We also knew they do extraordinary things at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that would give her a fighting chance. We were thankful for that.”

The UI Foundation announced the Ferentz donation Wednesday, along with creation of the new research program that will focus on improving patient care and outcomes for babies born early. The UI children’s hospital already is among the top neonatal intensive care providers in the world, boasting survival rates for babies born at 24 and 25 weeks far above rates for extremely premature babies born at other U.S. hospitals.

Jeffrey Segar, pediatrics professor for the UI Carver College of Medicine and former director of the UI children’s hospital’s neonatology division, said research support like the Ferentz’s gift will push the institution further.

“This gift from the Ferentzes will help us capitalize on our strengths, advance our research and, most important, make an impact on the lives of many Iowa children and their families, now and far into the future,” Segar said in a statement. “We are deeply grateful for their support.”

The UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital is the only comprehensive children’s hospital in the state, offering a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit — the highest distinction recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings, the UI children’s hospital stands among the top 50 in six specialties — earning its highest ranking in neonatology at No. 20.


“Iowa’s neonatologists are committed and are already leading the way for these little babies,” Mary Ferentz said. “We so deeply admire and appreciate the people who gave us hope and helped our family so much. This is a way for us to help them help others.”

Survival rates for babies born at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, using data from 2006 to 2016, are 58 percent at 22 weeks; 78 percent at 23 weeks; 85 percent at 24 weeks; and 89 percent at 25 weeks. Rates are much lower nationally.

This week’s donation is far from the first from head Hawkeyes football coach Kirk Ferentz and his wife. In 2015, for example, the couple announced a $500,000 donation to the Iowa Football Legacy Campaign, which supported two projects for the football program — a new indoor practice facility and a new football operations center.

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