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Kid Captain known for optimism

BY LILY ABROMEIT | OCTOBER 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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When Caitlyn Hill was 7 years old, she insisted on wearing flip-flops — something her mother didn’t think was a good idea.

Caitlyn had just had a stroke the day before and didn’t quite have the feeling back in her toes, which prevented her from wearing sandles.

Despite the discouraging reminders, Caitlyn replied, “It doesn’t matter,” slipped on the flip-flops, and hopped around the intensive-care unit on one foot. 

“Through everything, she’s remained a child in the best way,” said Lena Hill, Caitlyn’s mother. “She’s an old soul, but she also has retained her youthful zest.”

This is something Hill said Caitlyn’s entire family is thankful for.

“A lot of times, kids who are in and out of the hospital see too much too soon, but Caitlyn has retained that youthful and optimistic outlook,” Hill said.

Caitlyn is this week’s Kid Captain for the Iowa-Northwestern football game.

The Kid Captain program highlights the stories of pediatric patients at the University of Iowa 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.

Eleven-year-old Caitlyn was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia when she was born, which deforms red blood cells into a sickle, or crescent, shape, preventing them from carrying enough oxygen to the body.

Recently, Caitlyn received a bone-marrow transplant, the only known cure for sickle-cell anemia. Although she is now considered cured, there are complications from the procedure, such as graft- versus-host disease.

That disease can affect the liver or digestive system. For Caitlyn, it affects her skin. Her parents said they are hopeful she will overcome this complication to become completely medication free.

Ayman El-Sheikh, a UI clinical assistant professor of pediatrics, has known Caitlyn for about five years, said that throughout everything, he has been amazed with her maturity and responsibility.

“She’s always been very optimistic. No matter what she goes through, she looks to the bright side,” he said. “She does not get discouraged with the bumps in the road, and that was very good for her.”
Caitlyn is above average when it comes to this, he said.

“You don’t get that at a young age,” El-Sheikh said. “I don’t see it that much, so that’s why I was very impressed with her ability to be optimistic, ask questions, [and] understand. I was very impressed by that.”

Stephen Rumelhart, a UI physician assistant of pediatric blood and marrow transplantation at UIHC, said he thinks Caitlyn is mentally above the usual level of her peers.

“She keeps up on her schoolwork, is a very good student and very positive individual, and doesn’t let much slow her down,” he said. “She seems like somebody who doesn’t seem to dwell on her illness.”

Hill said she has noticed this optimism and positivity in her daughter throughout her life but especially over the last few years.

"No matter how difficult the treatment, she always focused on small things to be thankful for, and that was encouraging to me as a mother,” she said. “As we struggled not to worry, witnessing her ability to maintain a thankful spirit that infused her with strength and optimism really kept our spirits up." 

For Caitlyn, this positive outlook comes easily.

“I don’t really have to try that hard. I can see good things in everything,” she said. “The way I see it, if something bad medically happens to you and you sit there feeling sorry for yourself, that’s not going to do any good.

“It’s always better to see the glass half-full.”


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