Brothers from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, share same genetic heart disorder
Wednesday, October 8, 2014

(Editor's Note: The Mulder brothers will be Kid Captains for the UI Homecoming football game this Saturday, Oct. 11, when the Hawkeyes take on the Indiana Hoosiers at 11 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium.)

The Mulder brothers are best friends. Noah, 14, is compassionate and responsible. Isaiah, 11, is the family comedian. And Elijah, 8, is the perfect combination of his two brothers. They love playing sports and spending time together, but it’s their shared experiences that have made them so close.

Meet all of this year's Kid Captains by reading this related story.

When Noah began having heart palpitations and episodes of lightheadedness in 2008, Kristin and Joel Mulder took their son to a local cardiologist. Since Joel and his brother had heart problems in the past, they didn’t want to take any chances.

Local cardiologists suggested Noah begin seeing pediatric electrophysiologists Ian Law, MD, and Nicholas Von Bergen, MD, who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of abnormal heart rhythms. Both doctors travel from University of Iowa Children’s Hospital to Sioux Falls monthly to provide specialized care.

By looking at Noah’s symptoms in relation to his father’s, Law and Von Bergen recognized the problem was genetic and decided to monitor Isaiah and Elijah as well.

A test became available in 2013 to determine which mutated gene caused Joel’s heart problems, and he was found to have arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC)—a disease that causes fatty tissue to build up inside the heart, increasing the risk of abnormal heart rhythms and worsening heart function.

In March 2014, the test confirmed that Noah, Isaiah, and Elijah all carry the same genetic defect as their father, and are likely to develop signs and symptoms of ARVC.

The Mulder brothers' story. Video courtesy of UI Children's Hospital.

The three diagnoses were tough on the family.

“You really begin to adjust what your true hopes and dreams are for children when they are medically challenged,” says Kristin. “You realize what things really aren’t important in life and what things are.”

All of Joel’s family members on his father’s side are in the process of being tested for the genetic mutation, as well. So far, everyone who has been tested has been found to carry the defect.

After the diagnosis, Von Bergen informed the Mulders that the fatty tissue could build up faster in people who make their hearts work harder, which increases the risk of life-threatening complications.

This means the boys must limit most high-energy activities, including basketball—the brothers’ favorite sport.

“UI Children’s Hospital has been very helpful to our family in that they’ve come alongside us and supported us,” says Joel. “They helped us process the diagnosis and helped us change our daily activities to match what we can do physically right now.”

While the adjustment has been difficult for Noah, Isaiah, and Elijah, they continue to support each other in finding new passions.

“This genetic heart condition will affect them, no doubt, but it doesn’t have to stop them,” says Joel.

“It’s very poignant that all three of our sons were diagnosed,” adds Kristin. “I look at the way our boys are friends, the way they have gone through things together, and the bond they have. I guess that’s the way they’re supposed to go through this, as well.”

To see other Kid Captain profiles, click here.