Kid Captain: Blake Derby continues to inspire others after chest surgery


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Blake Derby is not like most teenagers.

At only 15 years old, he is using his experience of overcoming challenging situations to help those around him and other children still in the hospital.

Blake developed a severe case of pectus excavatum, meaning he had a concave chest. The condition caused his chest to press on his heart and lungs, making it difficult for him to breathe.  According to University of Iowa Health Care, approximately one in every 1,000 babies is born with the condition.

“His ribcage looked like it touched his backbone,” said Pat Derby, Blake’s mother.

At age 12, Blake came to the UI Hospitals and Clinics from Dubuque to undergo surgery on his chest.

The doctors inserted a titanium bar into his chest, guided by a small camera to avoid damaging any organs. The bar rotated, lifting the breastbone.

“They told us the pain for this surgery was a 10-plus,” Pat Derby said.

In fact, the pain left him sleepless many of the nights he lay in the hospital. After six days, though, he headed home as planned. Doctors predicted he would need at least a month of narcotics. But they were wrong.

“He took a pain pill to get home,” Pat Derby said. “But the miracle is he never took a pain pill after that.”

The Derby family credits the surgeon, God, and the prayers of their congregation for helping Blake through the surgery and sending him home with a marvelous lack of pain.

“A lot of people were very happy to pray for him because they see him every week at Mass,” said Father Gabriel Anderson of St. Columbkille Catholic Church in Dubuque.

Even though the surgery went very well, Blake could not return to a completely normal world — no contact sports, which meant no football.

“He loves sports,” Pat Derby said. “He can still play some of them but can’t play his favorite.”

Even though he had to step off the field, he did not turn his back on football.

“I’ve been playing football all my life, so it was pretty heartbreaking for me,” he said. “[So] I found other ways to get involved with football.”

Blake was asked to be the manager of his school’s football team.

He also strives to give back to the community, passing on what he says are the blessings he was given.

“He’s just so passionate about raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network,” Pat Derby said.

In fact, the Dance Marathon at Blake’s school will work with the UI Dance Marathon this year.

“I always try to give back to the community,” Blake said. ”I feel like I owe it to them. I’m still a pretty fortunate kid. I got to go home.”

He also changed lives at home.  Two of his friends also have pectus excavatum.

“They didn’t know what they had until I had the surgery and talked about it,” Blake said.

As Blake grows older, leaving his surgery in the past, he said he will always give back what he can.

“He’s been through a lot, but he’s an awesome kid,” Pat Derby said.  “He’s my hero.”

Blake was chosen by the UI Children's Hospital to be the Kid Captain for the Hawkeyes home football game against Nebraska on Nov. 23.

And the aspiring nuclear physicist continues to inspire and impress those around him.

“I expect that in the future we’ll see many blessings from this young man,” Anderson said.

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