The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

2023 Iowa football Kid Captain Gabby Ford is ‘wise beyond her years’

The 17-year-old shows strength and resilience in the face of a brain tumor, a condition she’s had for seven years.
Contributed photo of Gabby Ford from Mandy Ford.

Gabby Ford loves to give people hugs. 

After she started treatments for a brain tumor at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Gabby was unable to get up out of bed and greet people with a hug. As a way to show her appreciation for the hospital workers, she started giving out Hershey’s Hugs candies to replace the hugs that she couldn’t give. 

Now, Gabby can give hugs again as her tumor is shrinking after seven years of treatments. This weekend, Gabby will cheer on the Hawkeyes as the fourth 2023 Kid Captain this season.

Gabby first came to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital in February 2017. She was flown to the hospital after scans discovered a mass in her brain along with fluid buildup. After arriving at the hospital, Gabby was diagnosed with a common type of brain tumor called hypothalamic pilocytic astrocytoma.

Since her first trip in 2017 at 10 years old, Gabby’s mother, Mandy, said she has undergone multiple brain surgeries and has worked with the oncology team, as well as various endocrinology and cardiac departments.

During the brain surgeries, doctors at UIHC removed as much of Gabby’s tumor as possible but couldn’t remove all of it. Gabby then started chemotherapy treatments, but the tumor increased in size. 

Gabby then underwent an open craniotomy, which is a surgery that removes part of the bone flap from the skull to make the brain accessible. After that surgery, and more chemotherapy, the tumor still grew. 

In 2021, Mandy learned of a clinical drug trial targeting the exact tumor mutation that Gabby was experiencing, with a medication called  DAY101. After advocating for several months, the drug was brought to UIHC in the fall of 2021. 

After two years of the clinical trial, the tumor is barely visible. A recent scan of Gabby’s brain shows a complete clinical response to the medication.

“You don’t ever want your child to have to go through a drug trial or to be on something you don’t know what the effects are going to be … but we felt like that was a risk worth taking.”

Additionally, the medication allows Gabby to treat the tumor from her home in Fairfield while going to high school. 

UI Hematologist-Oncologist Andrew Groves said he has worked with Gabby since 2022 when he joined her team at UIHC. Groves added that the response of Gabby’s tumor to the clinical trial has been “remarkable.” 

In his experience treating Gabby, Groves said she has always been “a delight to be around.”

“She has a very unique personality and is very kind of wise beyond her years. She seems older than she is, so very smart, has a great, dry sense of humor, and is just very, very strong as well,” Groves said. 

This weekend, Gabby and the Ford family will be cheering on the Hawkeyes as they travel to State College to play Penn State. 

The family recently came to Iowa City to attend Kids’ Day at Kinnick, where Gabby was able to walk on the field and take a tour of the stadium. Gabby liked seeing the visitor team’s locker room, which is painted a bubblegum-pink color. 

“It’s not nearly as pink as my room,” Gabby said.

While the Fords are not traveling to Pennsylvania to see this weekend’s matchup, they will be in attendance at the Sept. 30 Homecoming game. Gabby is excited to do the wave inside the stadium and to be on the field, even though the Fords are not a big football family. 

Overall, Mandy said their experience with UIHC has been phenomenal. Above all else, the focus has always been on Gabby and her health, she said. 

“It’s been a team effort,” Mandy said. “That’s really the best way to say it. Everybody working together and trying to do what’s the best option for Gabby, what’s best for her quality of life.”

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About the Contributor
Kate Perez
Kate Perez, Senior Reporter
Kate Perez is a third-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in English and a Writing Certificate. Prior to her role as a Senior Reporter at The Daily Iowan, Kate was a News Editor, a Digital Producer, and an News Reporter. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Kate has held internships at USA TODAY, Iowa Public Radio, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.