Following his second kidney transplant, Kid Captain is ready to cheer on the Hawkeyes

This week’s Kid Captain, 16-year-old Andrew Morlan, suffers from chronic kidney disease. However, that doesn’t stop him from joking around with his family and “living his fullest life.”



Josie Fischels, Arts Editor


Andrew Morlan received his first kidney transplant when he was 1 year old.

Because of a rare condition called twin-twin transfusion syndrome, Andrew’s kidneys did not have appropriate blood at the time of birth, said Lyndsay Harshman, Andrew’s transplant nephrologist at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

A rare condition that can occur in pregnancies when identical twins share a placenta in the womb, Harshman said the significant kidney injury led to end-stage kidney disease, and Andrew required a kidney replacement as soon as he weighed enough to undergo surgery. 

Andrew’s first kidney came from his mother, Karen. However, because of the need to suppress Andrew’s immune system to keep his body from rejecting the new organ, Harshman said he developed a type of cancer that likely shortened the lifespan of his kidney transplant.

Andrew, now 16, received his second transplant last summer. This time around, the kidney came from his uncle, and each new transplant is expected to last him 20 years. 

“He’s doing great,” Harshman said. “He has not had any further trouble with the [cancer] he had when he was younger. I saw him [Sept. 30] in clinic, actually, and that’s one of the best parts of my job … to see patients when they’re doing well, and that was Andrew.”

When the Hawkeyes travel to play the highly-anticipated game against Michigan on Saturday, Andrew will represent the Hawkeyes as Kid Captain. 

Although Andrew will require transplants, immunosuppression, and follow-up appointments to ensure his body accepts the new organs for the rest of his life, he remains upbeat and energized, his family said. From joking around with the nurses at the hospital to creating secret handshakes with Harshman, Andrew shows no signs of letting chronic kidney disease slow him down.  

Immediately after his second surgery, Andrew was quick to make a joke. Before receiving his second transplant, he said he made a bet with his dad for $20 that his first words following his surgery would be “drop the chalupa” — a phrase from a humorous Taco Bell ad that became a running joke within his family.  

RELATED: Family supports Kid Captain along road to recovery  

Needless to say, Andrew is now $20 richer, and his family still laughs when recalling the memory.

“For the most part, Andrew is a pretty upbeat kid. He’s very resilient,” Andrew’s father Ron Morlan said. “One of the things we’ve learned, through the good and the bad, is that it’s kind of awesome to see how many relationships and positive things have come out of what most would consider a negative thing.”

Family, friends, and even Andrew’s teachers and classmates in his hometown of Cedar Falls have been a constant support system for the Morlan’s. On the day of his second transplant, Ron Morlan said three of Andrew’s former teachers came down to the hospital to support him during the surgery.

“A lot of times the hard stuff is the good stuff,” Ron Morlan said. “We wouldn’t have made the choice to have Andrew have to go through this, but in a lot of ways it has been really amazing.”

Harshman said that, for her, taking care of patients such as Andrew who are so involved in their health care is “an absolute joy.”

“He knows his medicines, he knows what he needs to do to stay healthy and successful with his transplant,” she said. “He’s got a smile on his face, he’s got a really good-natured heart. The cool thing, too, about Andrew — how much he cares about other people, and that he’s not just having self-pity for having a chronic disease. He cares about other people, he cares about his family, and he loves the things that he’s able to do on a day-to-day basis.”

Much like the teams of players on the field, Harshman considers patient families to be the most important part of the healthcare process. 

“I really just couldn’t say enough for how fantastic this family is,” she said. “They really are partners in this process — we consider the family an integral part of the team — and Andrew’s got a winning team, that’s for sure.”