Sioux Falls trio this week's Kid Captains


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Some days, when Noah Mulder gets done eating lunch, he and his friends will go to the gym and shoot hoops. They play games, like knockout, and Noah wins sometimes, “but it depends on which friends I play with,” he says.

Noah, 14, loves basketball, and so do his younger brothers, Isaiah, 11, and Elijah, 8. A few years ago, they all played pickup games with each other and their friends from school. They loved the competitiveness of the sport.

These days, though, the Mulder brothers don’t play much basketball. Doctor’s orders.

Around six years ago, Noah began having heart palpitations and felt light-headed. His parents, Kristin and Joel Mulder, took him to the local cardiologist, who recommended Noah see Ian Law and Nicholas Von Bergen.

Law and Von Bergen specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal heart rhythms. Each month, the doctors travel from the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital to Sioux Falls, South Dakota — the Mulders’ hometown — to provide specialized care.

Just by looking at Noah’s symptoms, Law and Von Bergen saw they were extremely similar to his father’s, which meant the issue might be genetic.

“Joel has been dealing with his [heart] issue for about 15 years,” Kristin Mulder said. “My husband’s brother was having heart condition issues as well. He lives in Texas. So we started to suspect that something was genetically linked. The test just wasn’t available yet to prove that.”

That test, which determined which mutated gene was causing Joel’s heart problems, became available in the fall of 2013.

But it also found that Joel Mulder has arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disorder ion which damaged heart muscle is gradually replaced by scar tissue and fat, increasing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms and weakening the heart’s pumping action.

In March of this year, the same test confirmed that Noah, Isaiah, and Elijah — this week’s Kid Captains for the Iowa-Indiana Homecoming football game — all carry the same genetic defect as their father. They are all likely to develop symptoms of the disorder.

Von Bergen told the Mulders that fatty tissue builds up faster in those who work their hearts harder. So, the boys had to limit their participation in most sports.

“I don’t know if the heart condition news hit us as hard as the limitation of sports news,” Kristin Mulder said. “Tears? Is that a reaction? It was disheartening for me. Both Joel and I played high-school and college sports, and we know the joy we got out of it.”

It’s been an adjustment for the whole family. Rather than basketball, Isaiah has taken an interest in bowling, and Elijah started playing baseball.

“We’re all kind of diving into different things that we can do,” Kristin Mulder said.

Noah took up golf, both of the traditional and disc varieties. Still, he doesn’t let that keep him from his post-lunch competitions.

“I tell my friends that, and they know about [the condition],” Noah said. “I’ll play with them. I just won’t get too intense. I know my limits.

“It’s different, but I’ve kind of known not to do too much. I can feel when it’s time to stop.”

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.

All three boys and their parents will make the six-hour drive to Iowa City this weekend for the football game. They’ve looked forward to this game since they first found out they were chosen as Kid Captains.

“We didn’t even know it was coming because Mom didn’t tell us about it,” Elijah says. “So one day, she said ‘Come here,’ and then we knew.”

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