Kid Captain shows her heart belongs to the Hawkeyes

This week’s Kid Captain, Gabby Yoder is excited to meet the team and step on the field as the Hawkeyes take on Penn State.


Ryan Adams

Kid Captain Gabby Yoder holds a large pack of gum to give Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz at Kids Day at Kinnick on Saturday, August 10, 2019. Kids Day at Kinnick is an annual event for families to experience Iowa’s football stadium, while watching preseason practice and honoring this year’s Kid Captains.

Alexandra Skores, News Editor

With a spunky personality and sparkly pink glasses, Kid Captain Gabby Yoder is excited to hit the field this weekend as the Hawkeyes take on Penn State. 

Abigail Yoder, mother to Gabby and her two siblings, said Gabby’s story began at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where she was born eight years ago. At just seven days old, Gabby endured her first open heart surgery. 

Abigail said at Gabby’s 20-week ultrasound, the doctors believed there was a mass on her heart. Following a high-risk ultrasound, the family discovered that Gabby’s situation was far more complicated. 

Following a fetal echocardiogram, doctors realized Gabby had pulmonary atresia and hypoplastic right heart. UIHC Pediatric Cardiologist Benjamin Reinking said Gabby’s case involved a single ventricle heart defect. 

“The heart has two right-sided chambers and two left-sided chambers,” Reinking said. “In single ventricle defects, one of the lower chambers of the heart doesn’t form. That results in essentially having a heart that doesn’t work on both sides.”

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Reinking said Gabby’s right side of her heart was small, because her pulmonary valve in her heart did not fully form during development. Reinking said that when this situation occurs, the body relies on the other chambers of the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. 

Abigail said her daughter has endured many open-heart surgeries, eye surgeries, bone marrow biopsies, and other procedures. Abigail finds it hard to put a timeline on Gabby’s procedures at the children’s hospital, as her daughter has endured so many. 

“Gabby is the kind of kid that takes things at face value and for what they are really worth,” Abigail said. 

UIHC Nurse Practitioner Trudy Pierick has been with the family since Gabby’s birth.

“They’ve always been very supportive to other families along the way,” Pierick said. “One of the best parts about them being involved in our hospital and our parent support group is that they are willing to strike up a conversation and share their story to give other families that little boost.” 

Pierick said the Yoder family is always open and inviting to the children’s hospital community, as well as other families experiencing similar situations.

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“I know when Gabby and her family is around that there is going to be fun involved,” Pierick said. “It displays that you can get beyond such tragedy with a chronic diagnosis and not dwell on that and actually use that as an opportunity to help others and help yourself boost forward.”

Gabby’s favorite player on the Hawkeyes is Michael Sleep-Dalton, primarily because Sleep-Dalton is from Australia. Gabby enjoys Australian accents — and loves mimicking it. Gabby also likes Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz because of his love for chewing gum.

“She kind of doesn’t get the jive about the football thing — it is about her,” Abigail said. “She’s the kind of kid who thinks she is the queen on a baseline. That’s just her normal day.”

Gabby has trading cards she is excited to give to students sitting in the student section this weekend. She is also excited to go on the field — a role she has been practicing for, her mother said.

Gabby said she’s being chosen as a Kid Captain because “people are going to cheer loud.”

“She has taught me more than I think I could have ever taught her,” Abigail said. “She’s so good at living in the moment, taking it all in, and just fully embracing life in a way that I don’t. I think people take their whole life to figure it out and she has figured it out already.”