Saturday's 'Kid Captain': Cal Kunnert

Oct. 15, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Cal Kunnert is seven, going on eight. To all appearances, he is a normal, healthy boy who likes to ride his bike, play football, and jump on the trampoline. He also likes to watch NASCAR and WWE, and especially likes to go fishing.

“He’s fine,” says his mom, Cori Kunnert. “He’s got some scars, but other than that you would never know!”

All of this is truly miraculous for Cori, her husband Jim Kunnert, and Cal’s three sisters, Gabrielle, Emma, and Mia. Two-and-a-half years ago, Cal clung to life by a thread, attended by flight nurses and paramedics aboard an AirCare helicopter bound for University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

An accident had pinned him between a four-wheeler and a tree at the family’s home in rural Hazel Green, Wis., near Dubuque. His injuries were so grave — five broken ribs and a broken collar bone, with both his lungs punctured and collapsed — that emergency room staff at a Dubuque hospital recognized Cal required the advanced level of care available at UI Children’s Hospital. They quickly summoned the UI AirCare team.

When the team arrived, Cori says, “They held us in their arms and promised they would do all they could to get Cal to Iowa City.” They succeeded, and Cal spent the next two weeks in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. For part of that time, he needed a high-frequency oscillating ventilator as his medical team worked to repair the wounds in his lungs.

All the while, Cori notes, Cal’s nurses, physicians, and other care givers showed great kindness and made extraordinary efforts on the family’s behalf; nurses would stay past their shifts and check up on Cal when not on duty. “They not only took care of Cal, but they took care of Jim and me and our family,” Cori says. He soon showed progress, and his recovery since the accident has been remarkably free of complications. He hasn’t even needed physical therapy.

“Coach Ferentz needs to get a good look at him – he is going to be a recruit real soon!”
Cori Kunnert, seven-year-old Cal Kunnert’s mother

Cal’s story is filled with small miracles. If they had waited for an ambulance rather than taking Cal to the ER in the family van; if their neighbor, a nurse, hadn’t been available to administer CPR en route; if Cal himself had been older or younger, or bigger or smaller, he might well have succumbed to his injuries.

“We have thoughts of `What if?’ all the time,” Cori says. “Regardless of what might have happened, we stand firmly on our thoughts about UI Children’s Hospital. The UI is top-notch.”

Cal recently won the one-mile foot race in his second-grade class. And, says his mom, “Coach Ferentz needs to get a good look at him – he is going to be a recruit real soon!”