Anjali Sahu thriving in Kid Captain spotlight

From visiting the pink locker rooms to walking out with Jack Plumb, Anjali has enjoyed her Kid Captain experience.


Jerod Ringwald

Kid captain Anjali Sahu walks out to the field with Iowa football players during Kid’s Day at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Aug. 13, 2022.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

Anjali Sahu, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, loves being at the center of attention. So, when her family found out the 6-year-old was going to be a kid captain, they knew she’d fit the role.

Carey and her husband Sajan thought they were done having kids after their first two children, Spencer and Maya, were born. But when Spencer was a junior in high school and Maya was a freshman, Anjali came along.

Carey quickly sensed that there was something different about her third child, as she started having abnormal dreams around four or five weeks into her pregnancy.

“I knew right away,” Carey said. “When I was four or five weeks pregnant, I had a dream that my child had special needs. And I had several of those all the way up until I got the diagnosis. Everybody in my family thought I was crazy.”

When Carey was about 13 weeks pregnant, her doctor did an ultrasound and found Anjali had an abnormally short nose — a possible indicator for Down syndrome in the U.S. Her doctor sent her to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for an amniocentesis procedure — which involves testing and removal of amniotic fluid from the uterus.

Carey said her family wasn’t too concerned about Anjali’s shorter nose because Sajan is from India, and people of Indian descent typically have short noses. She added that both Sajan and Maya have short noses.

The amniocentesis procedure Carey underwent, however, confirmed Anjali had Down syndrome. But Carey said she wasn’t worried about the diagnosis because she holds a degree in special education from the University of Northern Iowa. She now works as a special ed teacher at Benton Community High School.

“Being a special ed teacher, I have worked with a lot of amazing people with Down syndrome,” Carey said. “And I know the positive impact they can have and what a wonderful life they can have.”

Anjali was born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Nov. 13, 2015.

Anjali had trouble breathing after she was born. The doctors at St. Luke’s ran tests, but couldn’t find anything. They thought Anjali’s complications stemmed from low muscle tone related to Down syndrome.

So, Carey and her family stayed and waited for Anjali to get stronger. But Anjali only got smaller and weaker. At three or four days old, Anjali started throwing up.

Doctors at St. Luke’s recommended a G-tube, but Carey declined because one of her students had a G-tube and still threw up. St. Luke’s told the Sahu family that they didn’t have anything left that could help them and recommended UIHC.

A surgeon and radiologist were waiting for Anjali when she arrived at UIHC. Looking at the tests at St. Luke’s, UIHC diagnosed Anjali with duodenal stenosis and drew up a treatment plan within an hour.

Anjali had surgery to correct a blockage in the upper part of her small intestine within a few days. She was sent home on Christmas Eve.

Now, Anjali still goes to UIHC every couple months to visit her pulmonologist and a few other doctors. She is in a traditional first grade class accompanied by an associate. She loves to play with chalk and bubbles and is obsessed with Baby Yoda.

While Anjali’s biggest struggle right now is language, she likes using her communication device and sign language. She calls Spencer “dirty pig” and Maya “peach” in sign. Verbally, she calls Spencer “duck” and likes to quack at him.

When Anjali and her family went to Kids Day at Kinnick on Aug. 13, she loved the pink visiting locker room and giving other Kid Captains high fives and hugs. She even formed a special connection with her favorite player, offensive lineman Jack Plumb.

“When we went to Kid’s Day, Jack Plumb was amazing with her and treated her so special,” Carey said. “He held her hand and when it was time for him to scrimmage, she didn’t want to let his hand go. And she usually doesn’t connect with strangers that easily, so that’s a tribute to Jack and how wonderful he was with her.”

Though Anjali and her family never experienced The Wave while they were inside the Stead Family Children’s Hospital, they have still felt support from the Iowa community.

Maya, who is currently a fourth-year student at the UI, said talking to volunteers from Dance Marathon and Ronald McDonald House while in the hospital with Anjali made all the difference for the Sahu family.

Maya has been to several football games at Kinnick Stadium and is familiar with Kid Captains. Now that Anjali has gotten the experience firsthand, it means a bit more to her.

“I think it’s really awesome,” Maya said. “I love how involved the college and football team is with the kids and the children’s hospital. It never really occurred to me that Anjali was eligible to be a kid captain, so it came as a complete shock when some of her doctors nominated her. But it’s super cool now to see her face on campus.”