UF Health patient named Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Florida Champion

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — His body might not always have the energy it needs, but 6-year-old Nathan Ferrell’s fun-loving personality stands in stark contrast to his disease as he faces his unique medical challenge with courage every day.

Now, Nathan, a Gainesville resident and patient at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, will use that courage and his natural charm to tackle a new role that could help other children across the state of Florida. Nathan has been named this year’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Florida Champion.

In this role, Nathan will serve as a fundraising and awareness ambassador for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, the state of Florida and all children treated at the CMN’s 170 member hospitals. Delta Air Lines, Marriott International and Chico’s FAS are presenting sponsors of the 2014 Champions program.

Shortly before his first birthday, Nathan was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, a degenerative disease that attacks the mitochondria, which create enough energy for the body’s systems to sustain themselves and support growth.

At age 3, Nathan was the youngest patient in the U.S. to have an external device called a gastric stimulator implanted in his gastrointestinal tract to treat digestive issues. Additionally, a gastronomy tube inserted through his abdomen provides proper nutrition directly to his stomach, and an oxygen tank ensures he breathes properly. Because there is no cure for the disease, doctors can only treat each symptom separately.

However, Nathan perseveres. He has no problem keeping up with his two older sisters, he loves playing on his iPad and he is the Gators’ biggest fan. He is also quick to bond with his patient care team, with his playful nature facilitating long-term friendships.

As CMN Hospitals Florida Champion, Nathan will illustrate the impact of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and the significance of donated funds to treatment, recovery and charitable care. This fall, he, along with champions selected from other states, will gather for official ambassador trips to Washington, D.C., and Orlando.

“CMN couldn’t have chosen a more suitable patient to represent Florida as its CMN Champion,” said Scott Rivkees, M.D., chairman of pediatrics. “Nathan has always been our local community champion, touching the lives of everyone he meets; he is truly deserving of this recognition at the national level.”

Nathan’s official debut occurred at a special community welcome event April 16 at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Gainesville.