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

Bentley Erickson returns to home state for a ‘profound moment’ at Kinnick Stadium

The 12-year-old Iowa football Kid Captain spent much of his life as an infant in the hospital.
Carly Schrum
Kid captain Bentley Erickson reacts as he exits the Kinnick tunnel during Kids’ Day at Kinnick in Iowa City on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023.

For Bentley Erickson, returning to Iowa City usually isn’t a good thing. 

The Ericksons have been visiting Iowa City and the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital consistently for the past 12 years as their youngest son, Bentley, received multiple life-saving surgeries from physicians at the hospital. 

But now that Bentley, 12, is being recognized as the Kid Captain for the Week 8 Iowa football game against Minnesota, the Ericksons are looking forward to this trip. 

“Having spent so much time at the hospital, we really established good relationships with all the staff that played a huge part in helping Bentley, so we’re looking forward to catching up with them,” Bentley’s mother, Kris, said. 

Bentley, who has spent a lot of his life receiving care at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, was born 31 weeks premature into his mother’s pregnancy, which caused him to develop Goldenhar syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the development of the face and skull, and VACTERL association, a group of conditions that affect the vertebrae, anus, cardiac system, trachea, esophagus, renal system (kidneys), and limbs.

He was also diagnosed early on with esophageal atresia, where his upper and lower esophagus don’t connect, preventing food from getting to the stomach, and tracheoesophageal fistula, an abnormal connection between the esophagus and trachea.

While Bentley stayed in the children’s hospital for four months after his birth to recover from his surgeries, the Ericksons became close with UIHC pediatric surgeon Graeme Pitcher, who would become Bentley’s primary physician. 

Pitcher would go on to perform the surgery to provide Bentley with a natural esophagus, a procedure Pitcher said was challenging due to Bentley’s Goldenhar syndrome. He said throughout his career, he’s never had to perform a procedure quite like Bentley’s. 

Kris credits Pitcher for saving Bentley’s life multiple times. 

“[Pitcher] is our knight in shining armor … We do think he’s the best, and if anyone disagrees, we have a problem,” Kris joked. 

Before their Zoom interview with The Daily Iowan, Kris told Pitcher that Bentley had eaten potatoes and carrots for the first time.

“That’s the first time that he ate them, and he was able to because Pitcher] gave him a natural esophagus, and [Bentley] just did the happiest dance in the world because he accomplished that, and every inch-stone eventually will equal a milestone,” she said. 

Pitcher said it’s been astonishing seeing Bentley progress throughout the years and said it’s great seeing him healthy outside of the hospital. 

“Bentley has now moved from the sick kid category to the healthy kid category, and it just gives me joy when I see him,” he said. 

Natives of northern Iowa, the Ericksons moved to Brainerd, Minnesota, after Bentley was born. When asked if their family would root for the Gophers or the Hawkeyes, Kris gave a definitive answer. 

“One hundred percent we will be rooting for the Hawkeyes,” she said. “ We are the obnoxious people in our Minnesota neighborhood who have Hawkeye flags and signs outside our door.”

Besides rooting for the Hawkeyes, Bentley also enjoys playing sports video games on his Xbox, spending time with his two adult siblings, Clint and Kennedy, and playing with his service dog, Maya. 

According to Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz, Bentley is also a big fan of former Hawkeye tight end and current San Francisco 49er George Kittle. 

Kris said the last time Bentley was in Iowa City was when the family attended Iowa football Kids Day at Kinnick this past August. While there, she asked Bentley if he remembered being in the hospital.

“I told him, ‘Isn’t it grand to be on the outside of the hospital for the first time here rather than on the inside of the hospital fighting for your life,” Kris said. “I can’t tell you how many times we have stepped on the inside [of the hospital] just trying to survive, just praying to God not to die or to just get home … This is definitely a profound moment for Bentley.”

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.
Carly Schrum, Photojournalist
Carly is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and potentially majoring in sustainability. She works at the Daily Iowan as a photojournalist.