OTTUMWA — This year, the organizers of Oktoberfest have decided to include four honorary grand marshals alongside the parade’s official Grand Marshal, Carson King.
Each of the four are children who have been treated in the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, which King raised $3 million for following the Iowa-Iowa State football game in September.
“Carson has been an inspiration to our community and embodies our spirit of giving back,” said Oktoberfest organizer Kevin Hatfield. “He’s been very gracious with his time and we’re thrilled to honor him as Grand Marshal of the Ottumwa Oktoberfest parade.”
Sarah Abernathy, mother of one of the marshals, was excited for the opportunity to celebrate the work done at the hospital.
“[We’re] super excited to support that cause,” she said. “We would’ve been lost without that resource.”
Sarah’s 7-year-old daughter Maddie was born with transposition of her great arteries, a rare heart condition that causes trouble with blood circulation and breathing. Within five hours of being born, Maddie was rushed to the Children’s Hospital, where she spent the first 30 days of her life. Abernathy said that shortly after arrival, the doctors had a diagnosis and a plan of action.
While treatment typically requires a single open-heart surgery, Maddie required two because of complications that occurred during the first. Routine MRIs are required, but Maddie’s doctors say she’s doing great.
Abernathy said that Maddie is a “very creative and bubbly little girl” who likes arts and crafts, and playing make believe. She’s helpful and easy-going. Despite being a little shy, Abernathy said Maddie is excited to take part in the parade.
AJ Guest, the oldest of the marshals, was also born with a heart condition. When his mother Angie went in for an ultrasound early in her pregnancy, the doctors saw AJ’s heart had an unformed right ventricle, which would cause circulation and breathing difficulties.
Thirty seconds after birth, AJ was placed in an oxygen tent. He required a Fontan, a series of three open-heart surgeries. The first was done when he was six days old, the second at six months, and the third at 2 1/2 years.
“It still makes me very emotional,” said Angie. “They have saved my child; they have saved so many children. They feel like family when you’re there.”
Angie said AJ, who’s now 15, is a perfectly normal kid. He’s not restricted from doing anything physical and played as a pitcher and outfielder for the Ottumwa High School baseball team his freshman year. When his parents asked if he wanted to be in the parade, he immediately jumped on the idea.
Jessi Schuldt was just 25 weeks pregnant when she gave birth to her daughter Harper, who developed pneumonia shortly after she was born. The doctors didn’t think she’d live. Hand and footprints were taken for the death certificate, and the family gathered to say their goodbyes.
But Harper fought on. After 121 days in the hospital, her parents were allowed to take her home. Harper is now 10 pounds and is doing well.
“We appreciate what [King] has donated,” Jessi said. “If we didn’t have the University of Iowa, Harper wouldn’t be here today.”
Harper makes monthly visits to the Children’s Hospital and receives weekly check-ups from a nurse near Osceola, where the Schuldts now live. She’s on oxygen, but Jessi said she’s an energetic and expressive baby.
“She’s definitely going to be a sassy little thing,” Jessi said.
Alexander Malone wasn’t breathing when he was born three months premature. The doctors declared him dead after 45 minutes of CPR.
“We’d already had the pastor called,” said Alexander’s father Justin. “[Then] one of the nurses came back in and said he was acting funny.”
Miraculously, the nurses found Alexander had a pulse.
After a three-month stay in the hospital, Alexander was released. Justin said Alexander’s now a perfectly healthy 2-year-old boy who likes to play with toy cars and action figures.
“We’re excited and thankful,” he said.
The 46th annual Oktoberfest Parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.