Kid Captain Drew Hennigan excited to welcome fans back to Kinnick Stadium

Alongside a handful of surgeries, Drew Hennigan was diagnosed with an adrenal deficiency at two. During the first game at Kinnick Stadium at full capacity in over a year, he will cheer on the Hawkeyes as a Kid Captain.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa kid captain Drew Hennigan answers questions during an interview with ABC during “Kid’s Day at Kinnick” inside Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 14.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Editor

Drew Hennigan is ecstatic to be the first Kid Captain for the 2021 Hawkeye football season.

“It’s kind of cool because even my jersey says No. 1 and I’m the first game,” he said. “… It’s going to be cool to walk out on the field, even if that’s the part I’m the most nervous about.”

Even Drew’s favorite color is fitting for the occasion: gold, like the color on the jersey he will wear on Saturday.

Drew was born in Coralville before his family moved to West Des Moines, where they currently reside. The 8-year-old will drive to Iowa City with his parents, Gregg and Nikki, and his older sister Harper to be on Duke Slater Field for the Iowa vs. Indiana game. Drew is the first Kid Captain since the last game of the 2019 season, because the tradition was altered last season because of the pandemic.

Drew was born at the University of Iowa’s Hospitals and Clinics. Gregg said the majority of Drew’s big procedures, including the amputation of both of his lower legs because of missing fibulas, and separating his thumb from his fused fingers, happened in the first two years of Drew’s life. He also had a procedure on his eyes as a toddler. 

Since the move, the Hennigans return to the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital multiple times a year for regular checkups regarding Drew’s health and adrenal insufficiency. 

“Countless doctor’s appointments, dozens upon dozens,” Gregg said, “If someone told me we’ve been to the hospital more than 100 times for Drew, I don’t think I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Drew said his doctor, Dr. Luiska Pesce, cares about him and is always kind, so he doesn’t mind the checkups. However, he doesn’t like getting his blood drawn. 

Pesce said Drew has mild abnormalities with his thyroid hormone levels including low cortisol levels, which requires consistent medication. Drew has been Pesce’s patient for six years.

RELATED: Without football, Kid Captains will have to wait to take on Kinnick with the team

“[As a kid] He was noted to have a small optic nerve and those can be associated with the pituitary gland not working properly,” she said. “His cortisol level was pretty low when I started taking care of him… He receives hydrocortisone to replace that hormone and he needs to get a stress dose anytime he gets sick. If he’s not able to keep the medication down, that is very dangerous.”

As Drew grows up, Pesce said she will continue to watch carefully for other hormone deficiencies, but he’s too young to predict much of what his care could look like in the future. 

Because Drew’s adrenal insufficiency means his immune system doesn’t fight off infections as well as it should, Nikki said Drew will be first in line if the Food and Drug Administration approves a COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 12. She said Drew’s older sister is already vaccinated and Drew was jealous that she was able to get vaccinated before him.

Although he dislikes getting blood drawn, Drew said he is ready to get the COVID-19 vaccine whenever he can.

“I’m still excited to be vaccinated,” he said. “Plus I take a shot every night so I’ll be OK.” 

Drew has been passing out the game cards the hospital made for this year’s Kid Captains to all of his friends in his third grade class, he said, and he’s excited for his classmates to see him on the field — in person or on TV.

Pesce said Drew is a patient who is always joyous and humorous. As he’s gotten older, she said his curiosity has grown about his condition and his health.

“He’s very happy and he’s always making jokes,” she said. “He likes to tell stories and he only gives you joy when you see him … As he grows older, I’ve seen that evolution of how he’s becoming more interested in and asking questions and knowing more about what’s going on.”

Drew spends his free time playing video games and watching YouTube. He enjoys visiting Target to shop in the store’s electronics section and wants to be a video game designer when he grows up. 

Drew also enjoys cooking mac and cheese and Chicago-style pizza with his parents. 

As Hawkeye fans prepare for the first game of the season, Gregg said he’s excited to be with Drew on the field of Kinnick Stadium again.

“On a personal level, for 15 years, I’ve had season tickets to football games with my dad,” Gregg said. “So I’ve seen almost every home Kid Captain come out on the field. It’s always been cool, and once Drew was born, it meant a little bit more, it was extra special. To have Drew get that opportunity is just amazing and we’re really happy to recognize the children’s hospital and what they do for kids.” 

Nikki said the community support has been heartwarming, and she’s ready for Drew to be a part of another Hawkeye tradition.

“With the community and the hospital and everyone reaching out, congratulating Drew, and all of these people who have been a part of his journey along the way, there’s been a lot of people rooting for Drew for a long time,” she said. “It’s been fun to see and hear from all of those people.”