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

Kid Captain Nathan McDonald journeys back to Iowa City to be on the other side of The Wave

The 16-year-old was born with infantile myofibromatosis, a rare cancerous disease, but has been gaining health for over a decade.
Photo contributed by Kylie McDonald of Nathan McDonald.

Iowa football Kid Captain Nathan McDonald has defied expectations. 

Being taken off chemotherapy at three years old in an attempt to let him live his life without treatment for a cancerous disease, McDonald has progressed and gained health for over a decade. 

Now McDonald will be turning 17 years old on Nov. 22, two days before being recognized as the last Kid Captain for the 2023 Iowa football regular season as Iowa takes on Nebraska on Friday. 

“I really underestimated what it would feel like [being Kid Captain],” McDonald said. “It’s really cool and it’s even cooler because I get to experience it with my family.”

Hailing from Delta, Iowa, McDonald was born with physical abnormalities that were immediately noticed by his parents, Eric and Kylie. 

“We both immediately knew visually that something was going on with his back, and the amount of oxygen he was taking in wasn’t sufficient enough,” Eric said. 

Eventually, doctors diagnosed McDonald with infantile myofibromatosis, which is a rare, cancerous disease found in one out of 150,000 babies, according to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics health care experts. The disease causes tumors to form in the skin, muscles, and organs. 

For McDonald, these included his heart, abdomen, and spine. Subsequently, he was also diagnosed with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, and kyphosis, a forward rounding of the upper back.

During the early part of McDonald’s life, doctors at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital put him on chemotherapy to shrink the tumors, but oftentimes the treatment was ineffective. 

Yet the chemotherapy wasn’t working as well as intended, and by the time McDonald was 3 years old, his parents decided to take their son off the radiation and let him live as long as he could. 

“After that point through most of his single-digit ages, it was a big test, you know, to sit back and see what was going to happen,” Eric said. 

Yet the tumors began to disappear. According to Eric, X-rays of his son post-chemotherapy revealed no tumors, a shock to him and doctors at UIHC.

“There was no recollection of them ever being there, and the complete disappearance of some was just jaw-dropping both to us as parents and the UI doctors,” he said. “The most improvement we noticed was when we just let go and let Nathan grow, and he alone has got him as healthy as he is.” 

However, Nathan still dealt with more health conditions. As he aged, he began having seizures and experiencing poor eyesight, which doctors found was attributed to low blood sugar levels. 

Kylie said Nathan takes medication for his seizures and has been seizure-free for the past five years. 

In June 2021, at the age of 14, Nathan underwent his first surgery to correct his scoliosis and kyphosis, a major operation where physicians removed five of his discs in between his vertebrae to straighten out his spine. 

Before going through with it, Nathan was faced with the risks associated with the surgery and how he could wake up and not feel his legs at all. 

“I had to accept the risk and fully be, like, ‘This can go one or two ways, and you know, one of them is great, and I’m in better shape for the rest of my life, or I come out and live the rest of my life just a slight bit worst,” he said. 

The surgery was successful, and Kylie said Nathan grew from a height of  4-foot-6 to almost 5-foot-2 after the operation.

“He’s still looking to grow, but it doesn’t help his dad’s only 5-foot-10,150 pounds,” Eric joked. 

The McDonalds still visit the Stead Family Children’s Hospital once a year for a check-up with an oncologist, but other than that, Nathan is enjoying life as a healthy teenager. 

“He was kind of told to go be him, and if something comes up, we’ll deal with it, but as of right now, he’s as healthy as he possibly can be,” Kylie said.

In his free time, Nathan enjoys reading, creating comic books, using tools he finds around the house to make new appliances, and hanging out with his three younger siblings, Landon, Kayden, and Lily. 

“Nathan is always happy, engaging, and you can keep trying to knock him down, but he just keeps rising to the challenges,” Stuart Weinstein, Mcdonald’s physician at UIHC, said. “He’s really an exceptional young man who inspires those who are fortunate enough to care for him.”

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About the Contributor
Cooper Worth
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.