Hlas column: The captain of Saturday's Iowa Ladies Football Academy has the right stuff

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April 2, 2014 | 7:09 pm

University of Iowa football has had tough, brave and inspiring captains over the years, but perhaps none more so than the 12-year-old girl who will own that title Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

Alivea Carnahan of Amana is the honorary captain for the first Iowa Ladies Football Academy. That will be conducted Saturday by the Hawkeyes’ football coaching staff to women who have paid a $50 registration fee and have raised $300 or more for the UI Children’s Hospital. Attendees will learn several aspects about the game and the Iowa program from Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff.

Mary Ferentz, Kirk’s wife, has been the chair of the UI Children's Hospital Council for five years. She put together a group of female community volunteers last fall to explore different fundraising events for the hospital, and this football-related concept was a result.

When it came time to choose an honorary captain who would be a face of the hospital, so to speak, Mary knew who she wanted. She had heard Alivea speak at the UICH’s “Care For Kids” fundraiser last fall.

“She is awesome!" Mary said. "She impressed and amazed us with her strength, poise, and courage. She has gone from a little girl to a young lady before our very eyes and we think she is something special.

“Accidental injuries are the number one killer of our children, so her story resonates and underscores how important the high level of care available at UI Children's Hospital is to our community, state, and region. Alivea does a great job telling her story. She is a great ambassador, which helps us to get the word out.”

Alivea was lighting a fire to make S’mores outsider her home two summers ago when her shirt caught on fire. She suffered burns on 19 percent of her body, including her stomach, chest and arms.

She spent 11 days at UI Children's Hospital. She needed hydrotherapy to remove all the burned skin. She had surgery to have skin grafted from her legs to her burned areas. She’s had plastic surgeries and physical therapy, but isn’t requiring much more from the hospital these days than steroid injections into her scars.

“I’m fantastic, actually,” Alivea said when I asked how she was doing.

She said she’ll be joining the women at Saturday’s event when it comes to learning how to properly throw a football and ram into a tackling dummy.

“It’s supposed to be really fun,” she said.

It’s a pretty good advertisement for the hospital that Alivea can freely use words like “fantastic” and “fun.”

“I don’t know how she does it,” said Alivea’s mother, Lynnette Descourouez. “It changed our lives forever, the pain she went through. She had second- and third-degree burns.

“She does really well telling her story, telling people that accidents happen and you can still move on from them.”

“I know I got through it because of all the support I had from my family, my friends, and the hospital staff,” Alivea said. “So I told my story (at the Care for Kids event) to people who came to donate.”

In her speech last fall, Alivea said this:

“Most of the time they (at the hospital)  just tried to help me keep my mind off what I was going through. I don’t know how many times they told me how strong or brave I was. After enduring one treatment my nurse told me that that same procedure had made grown men pass out from the pain. They may never know how much those words meant to me during the time.

“It didn’t stop when I left the hospital. They helped with my return to school. Four of my new friends came and presented to my school about my injuries so I would not have to deal with questions, stares, or teasing.”

This fall, Alivea can pursue sports with her seventh-grade classmates at Prairie Point Middle School in Cedar Rapids. She said she likes running, volleyball and basketball.

And now, of course, football.

The following is the complete text Alivea Carnahan's welcoming  speech at the Care for Kids fundraiser for the University of Iowa Children's Hospital last Oct. 7:

Hi. My name is Alivea Carnahan, and I am a sixth grader at Prairie Creek Middle School, in Cedar Rapids. I want to be the first to welcome you to the "Care For Kids" dinner to raise awareness and support for the University of Iowa Children's Hospital.

August 10, 2009 was the day that my life changed. I was involved in an accident at home in which I received burns on 19% of my body. After being rushed to a local hospital, I was brought to the University of Iowa by ambulance due to the severity of my injury. The first few days were very scary as I was in isolation, being fed through tubes and enduring hydrotherapy baths to remove the dead skin from my body.

On day four I underwent a five hour surgery where they grafted skin from my legs to my stomach, chest, and arm. After 11 days I was released to go home. I was unable to go to school, but could visit my classmates at school by computer. After a few weeks I was able to return to school full time.

Over the past year I have endured physical therapy and plastic surgery, that have limited my physical activity, not to mention they both are pretty painful. But thankfully I am able to now return to a normal life. While I still visit a plastic surgeon I am active in sports and other activities.

A special thank-you is due to all the great nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, and child life specialists that helped me through this journey. They have been supportive, honest, caring, and even tough through everything. When I was in the hospital I was happy to see my friends and family, but sad when they had to leave after short visits. I soon learned that I had many more friends on staff pulling for me too. At first they did things like braid my hair, help me dress, or keep me warm with slippers and pajama pants. Most of the time they just tried to help me keep my mind off what I was going through. I don't know how many times they told me how strong or brave I was. After enduring one treatment my nurse told me that that same procedure had made grown men pass out from the pain. They may never know how much those words meant to me during the time.

It didn't stop when I left the hospital, they helped with my return to school. Four of my new friends came and presented to my school about my injuries so I would not have to deal with questions, stares, or teasing. They provided me with support groups, therapy and even asked me to be here today. I cannot express how much they all mean to me.

Thank you for letting me share my story with you, I hope you understand the importance of your support means to me and all the other children touched by the University of Iowa Childrens Hospital.

To help Alivea's mother reach her personal goal of raising $5,000 for UI Children's Hospital, click here.

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