Cedar Falls native takes stage as Kid Captain


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Margaret Schafer is a performer.

In her life she takes on many roles, whether it’s an actress on stage, a pianist in a recital, a sister and daughter, or even, a patient at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

And this week she gets to take on the role of Kid Captain for the Iowa-Pittsburgh football game.

The Kid Captain program highlights the stories of pediatric patients at the Children’s Hospital while introducing them on the field during home football games, along with inviting them to Kids Day at Kinnick Stadium in August for a behind-the-scenes tour.

And no matter what role Margaret is in, Polly Ferguson, a UI associate professor of rheumatology, said she’s always got a smile.

“I would have to say that Margaret is fun to work with because she’s just very optimistic,” Ferguson said.

When Margaret was 11, she began having pain in her bones. Her family took her to the local doctor in Cedar Falls, who suspected growing pains because of Margaret’s age.

The pain continued, and ibuprofen just was not helping to make her feel better, so the Schafers took her to a pain specialist, who found Margaret’s inflammatory numbers were irregularly high and she needed to be seen by a rheumatologist in Iowa City.

But the doctors said it would take six to eight weeks to get an appointment.

Ben Schafer, Margaret’s dad, found Ferguson online. He took a leap of faith and sent her an email explaining Margaret’s situation.

“That same afternoon she emailed back and said we can see you on Tuesday,” Amy Schafer, Margaret’s mother, said.

Margaret has two conditions. One, Ferguson was able to diagnose rather quickly.

“The first thing I found was the bone inflammation,” Ferguson said. “That was a bit easier because she hurt in her bones. That wasn’t very much of a diagnostic challenge.”

This disorder is called chronic recurrent multifocal osteomyelitis. 

But there were other symptoms Margaret had such as blurred vision and headaches that didn’t align with that diagnosis. Ferguson ran some more tests and was able to find she also had Takayasu’s arteritis, which is inflammation the body’s large arteries, such as the aorta, and their branch vessels.

Takayasu’s arteritis is usually rather hard to diagnose, but Ferguson said she has a feel for rare diseases. She always keeps those possibilities in the back of her mind, so that when they arise, she is able to solve diagnostic problemss.

But Margaret says thanks to Ferguson, she can live the life she wants today.

“I think of her as my hero,” she said. “That she was able to find something so quickly was mind-blowing.”

Margaret will turn 14 on Saturday. The Kid Captains for away games attended the Ball State football game to be recognized, and all of the captains and their families sat together during the game.

Although she’s only in the eighth grade, Margaret knows where she wants to go. She hopes to attend an art school in New York City and eventually be on Broadway. Considering the amount of pain she was once in, she is amazed at what she can now do and says the Children’s Hospital made it possible.
As for the future, Ferguson says Margaret will do big things.

“Whatever you throw at her, she just smiles and says, ‘OK. let’s get it done,’ ” Ferguson said. “Whatever she sets her mind to doing she will be highly successful with. Broadway, watch out.”

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