Pella, IA

Most toddlers have a little wiggle in their hips when they walk or run, right?

That’s what Rhonda and Steve Showman thought about their young son, Nick, whose unusual run was just a cute quirk. But by the time he was 4 years old, Nick wasn’t running the same way as his peers, and it began to concern his parents.

During an appointment for Nick regarding an ear infection, Rhonda asked her local pediatrician to take a look at Nick’s hips and gait. The doctor did a few tests.

“He recommended we get up to Iowa City as soon as possible,” remembers Rhonda.

The Showmans met with University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital pediatric neurologist Katherine Mathews, MD, who diagnosed then-4-year-old Nick with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, or DMD.

DMD is a genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle degeneration. It’s most common in very young boys and first affects the muscles of the hips, pelvic area, thighs, and shoulders. It eventually impacts additional muscles, and by the early teen years, the heart and respiratory muscles become affected, as well.

“As a parent, when you first hear that your son is diagnosed with something like this, you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut,” says Rhonda.

“I can still remember the car ride home that day,” adds Steve. “I could see in my wife’s eyes that she was scared. We were both scared.”

Nick was able to walk until 2014, but now needs a motorized wheelchair. As Nick gets older, his muscles will continue to become weaker.

“With most people, as their bodies grow, their muscles need to get stronger to support their bodies,” explains Rhonda. “In Nick’s case, his body isn’t able to produce—or produces very little—dystrophin, so then when his muscles demand some strength, his body isn’t able to give it to him.”

Over the years, Nick’s UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital team has been available to him not only in Iowa City, but also closer to their home.

“What’s wonderful is we come one a year to visit Dr. Mathews in Iowa City so that we can do the full workup that day,” says Rhonda. “Then every six months or so we’re in Des Moines at the outreach clinic where we see Dr. Mathews for a quick checkup to see how things are going.”

In 2011, Nick faced another issue, this time unrelated to his DMD. He began experiencing tachycardia—a rapid heart rate that occurs when electrical signals in the heart’s upper chambers fire abnormally. In order to avoid more stress on his heart, he underwent surgery to correct the arrhythmia.

Now 12, Nick is a quick-witted, outgoing kid and the Iowa Hawkeyes’ and Minnesota Vikings’ biggest fan. He shares a great bond with his older sister, Maggie, and always has an upbeat attitude.

“Nick is really good about adjusting to things and not getting too hung up in what’s wrong and focusing on what’s right,” says Rhonda.

Steve adds, “He’s taught our family what family should be.”

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