Saturday's 'Kid Captain': Nikolas Ball

Sept. 10, 2009

  • Editor’s Note: The UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and the UI Hospitals and Clinics have worked as partners for several years. That partnership moves to another level this fall with the introduction of the “Kid Captain” program, a program that provides young boys and girls that share two things in common: A life-changing experience as a patient at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and a love of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Go Hawks!

IOWA CITY, Iowa — In March 2008, four-year-old Nikolas Ball started running unexplained fevers, vomiting, and suffering leg pain so severe he had difficulty walking. By April, Nikolas was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer that stars in the nervous system.

Treatment began immediately at a hospital in Des Moines, and his physician referred the Ball family to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital for its expertise in stem cell transplants and pediatric radiation treatments. After meeting with the medical team, his parents, Robin and Jimmy, “decided that UI Children’s Hospital was the best place for our child.”

The Ball family was understandably scared. When the team at UI Children’s Hospital explained the process of stem cell transplants and radiation, they also taped it for Nikolas and his parents “because they knew we were overwhelmed and in a daze.” The staff treated Nikolas and his family “like we were the only ones there, and that our situation was special.”

At the beginning, Nikolas had only about a 20 percent chance of survival because the cancer had spread to his bones and bone marrow. But the pint-sized fighter made the best of every day, even riding his tricycle to radiation treatments.

Nikolas is a remarkable child who never gave up. After five rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, two major surgeries, and radiation, he is currently in remission. Riding the elevator back to his room after his final surgery, Nikolas even reached up from his hospital gurney and wanted to push the elevator button, just like any other four-year-old.

His latest milestone is starting kindergarten. According to his mom, “He just loves school! He brings home pictures of things he has done that day to share. It’s amazing because there was a time when we didn’t think he’d get this far.”

“Remarkable” is how Robin describes the physicians and staff and UI Children’s Hospital. “They are very caring and knowledgeable and strive to continue to find cures. They treated us with respect and compassion at all times.”

It is only fitting that Nikolas is honored as a Kid Captain in September since it is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Today, he is in remission and is a happy, healthy five-year-old who is living life to the fullest.