Ask 4-year-old Nate Ferrell to show you his ‘arc reactor’ and he will flash a big smile, lift up his shirt and point to his stomach. “See?”
Nate may not be the ‘real’ Iron Man, but he certainly is strong at heart. Just a few weeks before his first birthday, he was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, a degenerative disease that attacks the mitochondria, the source that creates enough energy for the body’s systems to sustain themselves and support growth.
According to the Foundation for Mitochondrial Medicine, one in 2,500 people suffer from mitochondrial disease. Because there is no cure for the disease, all doctors can do is treat each symptom separately.
Nate has seven specialists at Shands Hospital for Children at UF. At the age of 3 he was the youngest patient in the U.S. to have an external device called a gastric stimulator, or in Nate’s case, an ‘arc reactor,’ implanted in his gastrointestinal tract to treat digestive issues. A G-Tube, or gastronomy tube inserted through the abdomen provides proper nutrition directly to the stomach, while an oxygen tank ensures he breathes properly.
“Nate’s best friends are his doctors and nurses – he loves going to the hospital because he gets to see his friends,” said Nate’s mother, Amber. “One time he went to the hospital dressed up as one of his doctors [pediatric surgeon Saleem Islam, M.D.] and he even dressed up as him for Halloween last year!”
While his body may not always have the proper energy, Nate’s fun-loving personality stands in stark contrast to this disease. He has no problem keeping up with his two older sisters, Abby and Emma; he loves playing on his iPad, and he is the Gators biggest fan – he is even known to strike a “Tebow” pose.
“The past four years have been so tough, but I wouldn’t trade it. We have all been blessed. The fact that Nate is so closely watched and treated at Shands is fantastic,” said Amber. “It has enabled him to be a normal kid – to live life completely.”