Kid Captain overcomes life-threatening disease, exudes Hawkeye pride

After overcoming a dangerous disease, this week’s Kid Captain for the Purdue game emphatically supports the team she calls ‘Nana’s Hawkeyes.’


Katina Zentz

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz laughs with the Still family during Iowa Football Kids’ Day at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018.

Charles Peckman, News Reporter

Harper Still loves to dance and help her mother cook, as many 3-year-olds do.

But before becoming the Kid Captain for this week’s game against Purdue, Harper’s parents noticed she was experiencing diarrhea and bowel movements in her sleep in May 2017. The following morning, Harper began vomiting and had blood in her stools. Harper’s mother, Jodi, called a pediatrician, who recommended that they go to the emergency room.

“When her stools turned bloody, it turned into, ‘Something is obviously wrong here,’” Jodi said. “I’m a stay-at-home mom of three, and I called my husband at work. Just to see all of that come out of a 2-year old’s body was staggering.”

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The next day, when Still arrived at the children’s hospital in Des Moines, Harper had vomited 11 times and had 32 bowel movements. Once she was seen by doctors, Harper was diagnosed with shigella, a bacteria related to E. coli. Despite receiving medication and IV fluids, Harper was diagnosed with E. coli and her condition worsened.

“Our son was only 4 weeks old when this all started happening,” Jodi said. “On top of everything else we were adjusting to, Harper was sick, and we were struggling with thoughts of being in a hospital while we have two other young children at home.”

During her treatment, Harper’s doctors said there was a 5 percent chance she would develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially life-threatening disease that causes damage to red blood cells and could lead to kidney failure. Despite this prognosis, Jodi said, Harper remained strong throughout the process.

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Three days later, Harper’s doctors told her parents that she had developed hemolytic uremic syndrome. Harper was transferred to the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where she was quarantined for 12 days. Although this experience was trying on the Stills, Tyler, Harper’s father, said he was beyond impressed with the treatment the hospital provided.

“The treatment was first-class the whole way,” he said. “They knew exactly what they were doing and seemed like they had a game plan in place to fix the issues Harper was having.”

Although Harper underwent surgeries and five blood transfusions, she returned home three weeks later. To Jodi, walking through the front door was a moment she will never forget.

“It was such a sense of relief, but we were still scared because we live four hours away from Iowa City,” she said. “Even though it was farther away, everyone we talked to told us we should go to Iowa City for Harper.”

While scheduling a follow-up appointment for Harper one day, Jodi received a phone call telling her Harper had been selected for the Kid Captain program. This brought Jodi to tears.

“I was just so overcome with emotion,” Jodi said. “Just to be chosen is such an honor, and Harper was so excited. Her grandma is the biggest Hawkeye fan I know, so she always calls them ‘Nana’s Hawkeyes.’ ”

From then on, Harper exchanged her hospital gown for a Hawkeyes jersey bearing No. 1.

When asked about her favorite part of being involved with the Kid Captain program, Harper said, “The Hawkeyes. And walking through the tunnel on Kids Day.”

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