From ‘miracle baby’ to Kid Captain: Skylar Hardee will cheer on the Hawkeyes

Kid Captain Skylar Hardee spent the first 98 days of his life at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Now he’s 8 years old, plays a variety of sports, and is ready to cheer on the Hawkeyes against the Wisconsin Badgers.


Ryan Adams

Kid Captain Skylar Hardee signals a thumbs up in the Hawkeye football locker room 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.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Editor

Skylar Hardee’s parents were told before he was even born that their son had about a 1 percent chance of survival. Unwilling to give up, the pair traveled to four different specialists before arriving at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Now 8 years old, Skylar, a native of Hubbard, Iowa, spends his days playing and watching sports, from basketball to football and nearly everything in between. This week, he gets to cheer on the Hawkeyes as the Kid Captain when the team takes on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers.

“We always tell him, ‘You’re a miracle baby,’” Skylar’s mother Rita Hardee said. “‘You’re a miracle baby.’”

Because there was no amniotic fluid to protect Skylar in his mother’s uterus, doctors doubted whether he would make it. When he was born prematurely, Skylar’s mother said he received back-to-back surgeries in the NICU and lived his first 98 days of life in the Children’s Hospital.

Skylar was diagnosed with VACTERL association, a rare disorder affecting multiple body systems. Taking it one day at a time, Rita Hardee said, Skylar progressively moved off of one ventilator to another breathing machine and then another until the doctor gave the green light for him to go home.

Every two weeks for what his mom said seemed like the longest time, Skylar and his parents would travel back to Iowa City and the Children’s Hospital. He’s undergone more than 20 surgeries and procedures, including for his heart, kidney, and spine.

“They told us that he would never be able to walk. They had concerns with his hearing and stuff,” Rita Hardee said. “He defeated all odds.”

Although Skylar doesn’t understand his condition, his parents said they always remind him not to worry about his self-confidence. When they explained to him his role as Kid Captain, Rita Hardee said, Skylar thought he was famous — so it’s boosted his self-esteem a lot.

RELATED: Kid Captain Kendra Hines ‘on cloud nine’ to storm Kinnick with the Hawks

Skylar’s mom said he is very active, and that the older he gets, the more he wants to do. He plays soccer, baseball, basketball and loves football.

“He’s really just an incredibly resilient young man, and I’m always impressed by how happy he is and how excited he is by all the things he’s getting to do when any of those things probably didn’t even seem possible a few years ago,” said Stephanie Houston, UI Children’s Hospital pediatric nephrology fellow and Skylar’s doctor.

Houston said she deals with Skylar’s solitary kidney and works to make sure that he always appears healthy in that area. That includes taking the proper precautions so he can participate in sports.

“Skylar is really fun to be around,” Houston said. “Despite all the things that he has gone through in his life — he’s had more medical challenges than most adults in his short eight years — but he is always so happy.”

Skylar’s father Justin Hardee agreed, saying that his son loves to play video games and hang out with friends and is a natural jokester — just like his dad. Skylar’s just a normal kid, he said, and might act tough but is actually fairly sensitive.

RELATED: Lucy Roth brings ‘positive force’ as Kid Captain for the Hawkeyes

When he grows up, Skylar wants to be a police officer, Justin Hardee said, but he’s also mentioned being a firefighter, working in an ambulance, or in a helicopter that helps sick kids. Skylar wants to help people, his dad said.

“He’s a very passionate kid, and I think that’s from what he’s went through in life,” Justin Hardee said.

Skylar’s dad said he’s ecstatic for his son to be Kid Captain this week and very appreciative of everything Iowa City and the Children’s Hospital has done for his family. They have made Skylar’s year by naming him Kid Captain, Justin Hardee said.

“From everything he’s had done to him to this day, it’s just amazing how he’s overcome it and he doesn’t even think about it,” Justin Hardee said. “He acts like nothing ever happened to him.”