Will Linder
Johnston, Iowa

One can learn a lot from Will Linder—how to overcome challenges; inspire family and friends; and find humor during life’s toughest moments.

Will was born with congenital heart defects. He’s had a pacemaker since age 2, when he first underwent open-heart surgery in Des Moines. Unfortunately, during the procedure, he had a stroke that temporarily paralyzed his left side.

“It was pretty devastating,” says Will’s mom, Missie. “He went through months—years, actually—of therapy to regain his mobility and speech, which he did over time.”

Will also had kidney problems. Six months after receiving his pacemaker, Will had surgery at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. At age 4, he returned to receive a replacement pacemaker, and his condition remained stable over the next several years. UI Children’s Hospital pediatric cardiology specialists, working with Will’s cardiologist in Des Moines, oversaw his pacemaker functions and overall heart care.

Over time, Will’s heart became dependent on his pacemaker to start a heartbeat. In September 2010, he received a replacement pacemaker at UI Children’s Hospital. Two weeks later, however, he began having back pain, then a fever. By the end of the day, he was admitted to the UI Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) with a serious infection that had spread to the pace­maker and leads. He was closely monitored and treated with antibiotics, but ultimately Will’s pacemaker needed to come out. Pediatric cardiologists removed the device and implanted a temporary pacemaker system with a wire passing from the bedside through Will’s neck.

Will had to stay in bed for nearly three weeks in the PICU as he received antibiotics for the infection and blood thinners for a clot found within his heart. Throughout it all, he amazed his parents—with his resilience, his jokes, and his reassurances.

“He’d tell us, ‘Just calm down, Dad, it’s going to be fine. I’m in good hands, don’t worry about me,’” Will’s father, Steve, says. “I don’t know how he did it.”

Will’s condition improved, and pediatric cardiologists implanted a new replacement pacemaker. Will continued antibiotic and blood-thinner therapy for several weeks at home, but he was glad to be back with his parents, brother Samand sister Sarah. Eventually, the infection cleared and the clot dissipated.

Since his time at UI Children’s Hospital, Will has been doing great. He’s an outstanding student; he swims and runs track; and he’s discovered his talent at singing. He’s kept his sharp wit, but he also displays a quiet maturity that belies his age.

“He’s a real soft-spoken, sweet kid, but hilarious when you get him in the right setting,” Missie says. “He’s really finding his own niche in life.”

Missie and Steve note that Will’s health issues have made the Linders more compassionate as a family. And they praise their UI Children’s Hospital team for “being there” at every turn.

“The doctors and nurses would say, ‘We’re going to treat Will like one of our own children,’” Steve says, “That’s really all they had to say. We knew he was in safe hands.”