Bridgette Bissell, Kid Captain for Iowa’s game against Northwestern this Saturday, has autism and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2019.
Holly the house rat crawled between the folds of Bridgette Bissell’s hoodie, stopping to snuggle comfortably into the crook of the teenager’s neck. The 18-year-old chuckled and stroked the rat’s soft white fur.
Bridgette, this week’s Kid Captain, is actually the proud owner of eight pet rats, which help her feel relaxed when she’s feeling anxious. At the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital, the nurses and doctors upstairs know her as “The Rat Lady.” They even wrote it on the whiteboard before one of his surgeries, welcoming him back.
Bridgette attended hospitals during her life. She was born prematurely and was also diagnosed with autism and Crohn’s disease. This week, she’s the Kid Captain when Iowa takes on Northwestern at Evanston on Saturday.
While now living in Muscatine with her family and younger brother, Sam, Bridgette was born in Texas three months too early. At birth, she weighed just 1.5 pounds.
âShe had nothing wrong with it except that she was way too small and her lungs weren’t working. Her eyes were still sealed, âsaid Bridgette’s mother, Suzanne.
Bridgette’s twin, Madeline, only lived a few hours. Bridgette had to stay in the hospital for 100 days to undergo several surgeries on her vital organs which had not finished developing.
Bridgette is also autistic and sometimes has trouble articulating what she wants to say and dealing with sensory overload. In 2019, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which initially caused her to lose her appetite and a significant amount of weight and caused severe joint pain that put her in a wheelchair for a while. In 2020, she had a feeding tube inserted, Suzanne said.
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All the while, however, Brigette had a smile on her face, her mother said. Before the game, someone told Bridgette that her natural “fighting spirit” could help the Hawkeyes win.
During her hospital visits, Bridgette underwent several scans and was confronted with many frightening machines. But Bridgette is never afraid. In fact, she is fascinated by machines.
âI love all the tests and everything, especially the imaging, x-rays, MRIs and CT scans,â she said. âI like knowing how everything works, especially the machines, because I like factories and the way things are made. “
One of Bridgette’s favorite times as Kid Captain so far has been Children’s Day at Kinnick in August, when she went to Duke Slater Field and met the Hawkeyes. One of the highlights of Bridgette’s visit, however, was spotting a mechanical room under the stadium that contained huge air ducts.
Today Bridgette is a happy high school graduate who enjoys singing, learning accordion songs and, of course, her pet rats. All of her hobbies help her calm down whenever she feels overwhelmed.
âIf I’m feeling stressed I can always go, if I’m here, play some music or snuggle up with a rat – or several rats,â she said.
At the IU Hospital, Bridgette calls the ninth floor âher floorâ. From front desk clerks to cafeteria staff, to her doctors and nurses, Suzanne said there were so many people that they considered to be “the Bridgette team”.
“It’s easier to go through something like this when you feel like people really understand Bridgette, especially with Bridgette who is autistic and maybe has reactions sometimes to things that are not what she is doing. people expect, âsaid Suzanne. “[At the hospital], I can just relax and know that people are going to understand and do what she needs at that point.
With the last few weeks resulting in losses for the Hawkeyes, there is still hope that Iowa will find its place. Bridgette could be the perfect example of the kind of resilience they need.
“She knows how to bounce back from adversity,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said at a press conference ahead of this weekend’s game. âShe had a few surgeries and went on to develop Crohn’s disease. We are really happy to have the chance to recognize her.
Before their match, Bridgette’s message to the Hawkeyes is to keep “the fighting spirit.”
âCome on Hawks, you can do it,â she said. âEven if things seem tough and difficult, always look on the bright side and keep fighting. It doesn’t matter if you lose a bunch of points or whatever, just keep fighting until the end. Put that victory energy into the universe.