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Glenwood Girl Serving As Iowa Kid Captain

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Hospital, Hawkeye Partnership Brings Joy To Pediatric Patients

By Joe Foreman, Editor

Long road trips to the University of Iowa are nothing new for Livia Jackson.

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For the past six years, the 10-year-old daughter of Jonathan and Holly Jackson of Glenwood has been receiving treatment at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (CVS), a rare condition characterized by recurring and prolonged episodes of intense nausea and vomiting, occasional abdominal pain and intense headaches.

The condition has caused Livia to miss countless days of school and normal childhood activities over the years, but the good news is that the treatments have helped bring the episodes under control and many of Livia’s most recent visits to Iowa City have been spent at Kinnick Stadium instead of the hospital.

Livia is one of 13 current or former Stead Family Children’s Hospital patients selected from nearly 300 nominations to serve as a Kid Captain for the Hawkeye football team this season. The Kid Captain program, now in its 10th year, is a partnership between the hospital and Iowa football team that gives the pediatric patients special recognition and an up-close encounter with the Hawkeye football team. 

There are two types of Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, Livia’s mother explained. 

“They are referred to as Trigger Kids and Calendar Kids,” Holly Jackson said. “Calendar Kids are more predictable to when their episodes will strike, however there really isn’t a preventative for them.  They may be once a month, week or every 68-72 days, for example. Livia is a Trigger Kid, which means various things can trigger an episode, such as a severe weather change, too much excitement (maybe a birthday, holiday, etc.) and/or the heavy smell of garlic.  She has preventatives she can take which will help decrease the severity and frequency of her episodes.”

Livia has lived with the condition her entire life, but wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 5. The first five years of her life included numerous medical procedures - with allergy tests, MRIs, CAT scans, stomach biopsies, blood work, the removal of her tonsils, dental surgery “and everything else imaginable,” her mother said.

At the referral of pediatrician Dr. Shawn Jones, Livia was taken to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where doctors finally diagnosed her condition and began treatments to bring the intensity of episodes under control.

“I am grateful to each of the doctors and hospital staff for helping us get our life back,” Holly Jackson said.  “It is comforting to know that they work to stay two-steps ahead of us with research and educating residents about Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome.  As Livia’s symptoms change, so do the treatments.  I could never thank them enough for all that they have done for Livia.”

Livia’s Kid Captain experience began last spring when she and her parents went to Iowa City for a three-hour interview that was condensed into a 3 ½ - minute video that tells her story. In August, Livia and her fellow Kid Captains had the opportunity to walk hand-in-hand with Hawkeye players out of the tunnel and onto the field at Kinnick Stadium at a special “Kid’s Day” scrimmage where they also enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the football facilities and locker rooms. They got to meet Hawkeye players and coach Kirk Ferentz and each Kid Captain was given his or her own personalized locker, jersey, football, football card, poster and Nike bag.

“I didn’t know that was going to happen,” Livia said. “I really like the Nike bag and it was fun to get cheered on when they showed us on the screen (Jumbotron).”

The Kid Captains and their families got to watch the scrimmage game from the press box where they also enjoyed a buffet lunch. The event was an opportunity for the Kid Captains and their families to get to know one another and the unique challenges they’ve all faced.

“It was amazing and humbling as you talk to each one of the families and you learn their stories,” Holly Jackson said. “Some of them have had life-threatening illnesses and some of them have had struggle after struggle.”

Each of the 13 children have a designated week to be the Kid Captain. Livia will be recognized the week leading up to the Hawkeyes’ Nov. 17 game against Illinois. Banners featuring Livia’s photo will be displayed on campus and in the hospital that week and the video about her will be featured on the Stead Family Children’s Hospital website and social media pages.

During Iowa’s homecoming celebration, the weekend of Oct. 19-20, the 2018 Kid Captains were honored along with past Kid Captains during a 10-year reunion celebration. Since the program’s inception, 134 children from 89 cities from seven states have served as Kid Captains. Over 100 past and present Kid Captains took part in the homecoming parade on Friday and special ceremony on Saturday at halftime of the Hawkeyes’ football game against Maryland. It was a memorable experience for Livia and her family as they experienced their first Hawkeye game together.

“We got to walk in the parade and everyone was cheering for us,” Livia said. “The game was really fun. They showed superheroes (on the Jumbotron) and then they showed the Kid Captains. Everyone was cheering.”

Along with her parents, Livia’s strongest supporters have been her siblings – older sister Lacey and younger brothers Maxton and Maverick. Maxton, in particular, enjoyed accompanying Livia for her Kid Captain experience as he got to be on the field to meet Coach Ferentz and some of his favorite Hawkeye players.

In appreciation of her opportunity and the new friends she’s made as part of the Kid Captain program, Livia is “giving back” by collecting donated items for the child life specialists at Stead Family Children’s Hospital that can be distributed to children undergoing treatment at the facility and their families. She’s collected everything from books, toys and bubbles to board games, Hawkeye apparel and gift cards for restaurants, retail stores and hotels. The items will be presented Nov. 12 as she officially begins her week as Kid Captain.