14-year-old Kid Captain remains ‘granny’s little fighter’

Kiersten Mann has beaten all odds in adverse circumstances and is the Kid Captain for Saturday’s football game against Wisconsin.


Katina Zentz

Kid Captain Kiersten Mann stands in front of her locker during Iowa Football Kid’s Day at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. The 2018 Kid Captains met the Iowa football team and participated in a behind-the-scenes tour of Kinnick Stadium. Each child’s story will be featured throughout the 2018 Iowa football season.

Aadit Tambe, News Reporter

Kiersten Mann has overcome all the hurdles that have stood in her way to inspire everyone around her.

Kiersten, 14, of Ankeny, Iowa, is the Kid Captain for Saturday’s football game against Wisconsin.

At the age of 3, Kiersten was diagnosed with limb muscular dystrophy — a disease that causes weakness in the muscles, said her father, Jim Mann.

The disease causes the body to be unable to produce a protein that builds muscle.

Kiersten was taken to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital immediately. In October 2016, however, Kiersten started experiencing exhaustion and flu-like symptoms, Mann said.

I remember I had almost gotten a heart attack the first time I saw her walk. She is doing really well now.

— Mary Mann, Kiersten's grandmother

In one of her following routine visits to a local cardiologist in Des Moines, she was diagnosed with severe heart issues, he said. She had to be taken to Iowa City in an ambulance immediately.

“She was diagnosed with … heart failure,” he said. “She was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. She was diagnosed with heart arrhythmia, caused by weakness in [her] heart.”

After her arrhythmia was brought under control, Kiersten was able to go home.

She had a cardioverter-defibrillator implanted to support her heart function, Mann said. Her heart function was approximately 25 to 35 percent.

During Kiersten’s illness, her mother was combating cancer. She died in March 2017.

“And shortly after that, [Kiersten] started to get sick again,” Mann said. “At the funeral, I noticed her weakness. A couple of weeks later, her heart function [dropped to] 10 to 15 percent of what it would normally be.”

On Feb. 23, Mann received a phone call to tell him that a heart transplant was available for Kiersten. The surgery took around 15 hours.

“I think it’s going to be a very cool experience,” Kiersten said about being Kid Captain. “It’s just a really big honor.”

RELATED: Kid Captain for UNI game considered Iowa football’s ‘good-luck charm’

She likes football, and Iowa is her favorite team, she said. She hopes to attend the UI for college.

“Her first love is basketball,” Mann said. “She’s a really big Iowa basketball fan. When she was in the hospital, several of the players came and visited her, which was nice.”

Adjusting to a schedule was a little difficult at first, but she said she is happy to get back to school.

“It’s really good to go back to school and [get back to] routine,” she said. “I can keep up on everything, and I haven’t had a normal schedule for about two years, so it is really nice to get back to that.”

Mann said they had an amazing experience in Iowa City.

“As far as personal experience could go, I had a good experience at the hospital,” she said. “Most [nurses and doctors] go an extra mile to connect with you.”

UI neurology Professor Katherine Mathews, who worked with Kiersten, noted the teen’s spirit and toughness.

“Kiersten is an amazing young woman,” Mathews said. “She has [shown] an enormous resilience although she has been through a lot. She is just amazing. In all the time I’ve seen her, I’ve never seen her wanting to give up.”

RELATED: 6-year-old celebrates completing cancer treatment at Cy-Hawk game

Mathews has worked with Kiersten since Kiersten was 3. She has since been an inspiration to everyone around her, Mathews said.

Kiersten is especially close to her grandparents, who live in Center Point, Iowa.

“Just thinking of what Kiersten has been through makes me cry,” Kiersten’s grandmother, Mary Mann, said. “She is doing well now. She is going to school [regularly] for the first time in three years.”

Kiersten likes to go to concerts, and she also has a flair for design, Mary Mann said.

“She is just grandma’s little fighter,” Mary Mann said. “She is a trouper.”