Saturday's 'Kid Captain': Savannah Erck

Sept. 25, 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!

By the time she was seven years old, Savannah Erck had endured two surgeries for scoliosis, a curvature of the spinal column that can be caused by the disorder. Two years ago, she began experiencing double vision when playing softball. Diagnosed at Syracuse University Hospital in New York with basilar invagination, a condition which causes the top vertebrae to migrate upwards into the brain, her doctor felt the only neurosurgeon who could save her life was nearly 1,000 miles away, at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

In Savannah’s case, the vertebrae were compressing the lower part of her brain stem. Left untreated, the progression of the disorder would have been painful and, ultimately, fatal.

Correcting her condition required a very delicate and complex surgery, so Savannah’s parents turned to Iowa for the expertise of one of the world’s most renowned pediatric neurosurgeons. According to her father, Dean, “Every neurosurgeon on the East Coast that I talked to said that if this was their daughter, they would want Dr. Arnold Menezes to perform the surgery.”

Savannah’s 12-hour surgery involved a large surgical team and was followed by weeks of recovery at UI Children’s Hospital. She also returned in December 2008 for an additional surgery to correct scoliosis. “My daughter’s first operation was so successful that, when it came time to put titanium rods in her back eight months later, we came back to Iowa because of the complicated nature of intubating a child with this condition,” says Dean.

“We have made two treks to Iowa for two very serious surgeries that could not be done anywhere else,” says her father. “Every aspect of our Iowa experience was life-changing. We love and admire the UI more than I can say.”

While recovering after her first UI surgery, Savannah had a very special brush with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Her intensive care nurse arranged for now-former Hawkeye foot¬ball player Tyler Blum to visit Savannah.

Dean and Julia, Savannah’s mother, remember that as a special occasion. “When he came in the room, my daughter smiled for the first time since the surgery,” said Dean. “I can’t tell you how much of a difference this made to her. This young man demonstrated everything that was right with Iowa and college athletes.”

Today, Savannah is back at home in Alexandria Bay where she lives with her parents, brother Bryn, 13, and sister Susie, 9. By all accounts, she is a typical tenth grader at Alexandria Bay Central School who enjoys music and reading and is doing very well in school. “Savannah is a beautiful 15-year-old girl,” says her proud father. “UI Children’s Hospital changed all our lives. I can’t thank them enough for saving my daughter’s life and then fixing her so she could enjoy it.”

From her home halfway across the U.S., Savannah cheers on her team as Kid Captain of the Iowa Hawkeyes.