When Mark Doderer's daughter asked him to help her gain independence, he was skeptical. Then he got creative.
Katie Doderer, now a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, has congenital central hypoventilation syndrome and depends on a ventilator to help her breathe. She needed supervision at night, either by a nurse or by her family, to make sure her equipment didn't become disconnected while she slept.
"It's when she was a junior in high school and she got accepted to Governor's School that she said, 'Well, we need to figure out how I'm going to live independently,'" he says. "I said, 'Well, I'm just not sure that you can do that.'"
Doderer didn't leave it there, though. He developed a device that works with her ventilator and carbon dioxide monitor overnight to make sure she wakes up if her brain doesn't signal her lungs to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide and her ventilator and carbon dioxide monitor fail to resolve the problem.
Doderer, a lecturer at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, has filed for a provisional patent on the device he calls the "Waker System."
Doderer moved to Arkansas in 2013 when his wife, Marcy Doderer, became president and chief executive officer at Arkansas Children's Hospital.
The Doderers are this year's co-chairmen of the Miracle Ball, a joint project between the Arkansas Children's Hospital Auxiliary and 500 hospital volunteers that raises money for the hospital.
The gala, already sold out, will begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Children's Hall on the Children's Hospital campus, and organizers hope to make guests feel as though they have been transported from Little Rock to Provence, France.
"They're going to decorate the hall to be like an outdoor plaza in France and then dinner is going to be French cuisine," says Doderer. "We're going out on a limb and having lamb and scallops. And I have it on good authority that there will be nice French wines, which will be fun."
Emily Taggart, director of content marketing at Children's, said the event is on track to raise $1 million, up from $620,000 last year.
"Fred Scarborough has really put forth the charge to say, 'Hey, this is pretty rare that the CEO would also be the chairperson of the Miracle Ball,'" Doderer says. "It's exciting to be a part of that. It was fascinating when I moved here to see that the institution of Children's Hospital is beloved in this state, and it's events like this that make that feeling happen."
Money raised through Miracle Ball will be used to add to the hospital's hallmark features designed to bring joy to children and their families as they deal with whatever brought them there. Donations might bring additions like the whimsical animal statues and child-sized doors in the new Arkansas Children's Northwest Hospital in Springdale, or maybe a unique new playground, to go along with the already present art, music and animal therapies and the window cleaners dressed as superheroes.
Doderer is the third of four children born to Earl and Sylvia Doderer. Earl Doderer was a career Air Force man. Sylvia Doderer went to nursing school when Doderer and his younger brother, David, were old enough to ride their bikes to school.
Doderer grew up in San Antonio and went to Trinity University, where his father was a professor of engineering. It was there that he met his wife.
"I helped her with her homework," he says. "She was a finance major, and I think she had to code Hangman or something like that."
They married right after he graduated -- she finished a year ahead of him -- and moved together to Iowa, where she completed graduate work.
"I had a newly minted computer science degree, and I could not find a job," says Doderer.
He had sold shoes since he was 16, working for the flagship store in a chain owned by his aunt and uncle, and he fell back on that experience in Iowa City.
"I made more money than any other kid I knew at my high school and that was just working Saturdays and one or two evenings a week; I could really hustle and sell some shoes," he says. "That continued even through Trinity, and that was working just Saturdays. Just working one day a week, I could make enough money to pay for my expenses because tuition was free."
When Marcy Doderer finished her master's degree in hospital and health administration, they moved to Dallas for her residency, where computer programming jobs were more plentiful.
"I decided I didn't want to computer program," he says. "I couldn't envision myself sitting behind a desk. We had free housing in Dallas, we lived on the campus of the hospital, so we had opportunity to do a lot of things because we didn't have bills. I said, 'I don't know what I want to do.' So we were sitting there thinking, and I said, 'I think I want to teach.'"
He taught high school computer science for five years.
"I think if I had had a programming job when we moved to Iowa I might have just continued to stay in computer programming after that, but what I found is that that is my passion -- teaching," he says.
Brandon Phipps has taken several of Doderer's classes at UCA.
"I could tell from the very first class period how enthusiastic he was about everything. It doesn't seem to matter what he's teaching. I've taken him for seminar ethics classes, I've taken him for data structures and Java and a few other courses, and every class he's the exact same person," says Phipps. "He's extremely high energy -- not overboard but he's always got a positive attitude -- and what I enjoy most probably about taking his course is just the openness. Anybody can really speak up at any time, and he always keeps an open forum type of environment where anybody feels comfortable enough to speak up at any time."
Katie was born while the Doderers lived in Dallas.
"Marcy delivered both kids at the hospital where she worked," he says. "Everybody was sort of on high alert because the boss was having a baby, and it was a super hard labor. Somebody was looking over us -- luck, divine intervention, whatever."
Because of the difficult labor, Katie was to be sent to the step-down neonatal intensive care unit for observation, but that unit was full. She was sent, instead to the neonatal intensive care unit.
"In the NICU, they put a pulse ox on her because that's what you do when you go to the NICU. And when she went to sleep of course she stopped breathing," he says.
The pulse oximeter alarmed when her oxygen saturation dropped.
"They were curious so they woke her up and she started breathing again and this went on for days and this was before they had figured out the genetic mutation for CCHS," he says. "Interestingly enough it was Marcy's dad who diagnosed her first. He's a brilliant physician and he said, 'You're going to hear about this thing and I think it's what Kate has and I want you to hear it from me first.'"
Katie joined big sister Emily, now a second year medical student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, after a seven-week stay in the hospital, with full-time nursing assistance to help with ventilator and monitors.
FAMILY AND FRIENDS
From Dallas, the Doderers moved to Paris, Texas, and three years later they moved back to San Antonio. They lived about three blocks from Mark's sister, Audrey Laird, and her family. His sister, Jill Rosseau, and his brother, also live in San Antonio.
"The first time I met Mark he reminded my now wife that she had a boyfriend and to never talk to me again. I've known him a long time and we've become good friends," says Doderer's brother-in-law Rick Laird. "He was a fraternity brother of the person my wife had dated for a long time, but they were in the process of going in different directions, and I guess Mark hadn't gotten that message, but he was being his typical loyal self to both his fraternity brother and his sister. That's a very Mark trait -- he's a very loyal kind of person."
Doderer had quit teaching to help manage Katie's health care by then, and he ran the carpool for his kids as well as for the Lairds'.
"That's when I started the Ph.D. program at [University of Texas at San Antonio] and that was also just fantastic. I found out that I could teach part-time because I was a teaching assistant and that gave us insurance and I only had to teach two courses per semester so the other time I was working on my Ph.D. It took me a longer time to finish my Ph.D. -- it took me six years. I worked for our family while getting a Ph.D. which was a wonderful accomplishment and all the while I was back in the classroom, teaching at the college level. Teaching high school was great, but teaching college was exceedingly better."
Doderer completed his dissertation in bioinformatics and machine learning. That area of interest led him to Barry Brady, who is chief operating officer for the Arkansas Children's Hospital's Research Institute.
"Mark's a very bright guy and his background is in computer science and I like to pick his brain because big data is the way science is moving," says Brady. "He actually helped us develop our high performance computing cluster and to select the equipment, and he actually helped us develop a relationship with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with their data processing unit there."
By the time Doderer started working on the Waker System, he had already conquered various other challenges posed by his daughter's medical equipment.
"I loved doing that and was hopefully helpful in letting Katie have a very normal life," he says. "For instance, she couldn't ride a bike because the vent at the time was too heavy for her and she was too little. So we bought one of those bikes that have one wheel that attaches to the seat post in front of you and I would wear the vent in my backpack and the tubing would go back to her."
Katie learned to ski with her ventilator as well; her instructor carried it on her back and stayed close, with the ventilator tubing between them. Doderer ran interference, keeping other skiers at bay.
"I'm very lucky," says Katie Doderer. "He's pretty great. I'm definitely a daddy's girl. We're very similar -- we're kind of goofy and in my family we consider ourselves squiggles or squares rather than Type A and Type B. My mom and my sister are very Type A -- very task-oriented, very organized people, and my dad and I are more go-with-the-flow flexible."
She loves the family's Sunday night tradition of baking pizza in their brick oven.
"And he always has terrible jokes," she says. "For Christmas last year he gave me one of those flip calendars, and it's a joke of the day, and I'll text him a picture of the joke every day."
They worked together to create the Waker System.
"When we first built it, to know that it was working, we would have it on her and I would monitor her, too, so that way I could see once she alarmed if she woke up to the device or not," he says. "It's hardwired to the vent and the monitor, and it has an output device that she straps on her leg and if anything alarms, so like if she became disconnected, it would alarm. It vigorously shakes and wakes her up."
The Waker System connects with the ventilator and monitor through nurse call ports.
"A lot of devices have nurse call ports -- glucose monitors and glucose call ports have nurse call ports so it could work for not just kids with ventilators, it could work with any device. That's why I think it's quite marketable," he says. "What's cool is that I built in battery backup and there's redundancy -- there's a super-bright LED light that's attached to her headboard that comes on if she sleeps through the shaking, which she can't. I feel like truly I can send her to school and know that I've done my best to protect her and know that she's going to be OK."
Because of the autonomy the Waker System has offered Katie, Doderer hopes to see it made available to other families.
"When the lottery was $1.6 million, I said, 'I'm just going to build it myself and give it away,'" he says. "It's been put forth and we're still just waiting on the patent office to say yay or nay, but the big part is finding someone who would say yes, we'll pay for this to become FDA approved and go through the process to market it."
Mark Sterling Doderer
Date, place of birth: April 6, 1968, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Five people I would invite to a fantasy fundraiser: Thomas Jefferson; Robin Williams; my dad, Earl Doderer, who passed away a few years ago; Jesus; and Marcy’s grandfather, Chester Weidman.
I want to be known for: Being a great teacher and a great husband and dad.
My most precious childhood memory: Is of seeing my dad come home from work in the evenings. I would always run out and carry his briefcase in. That was when he was still in the Air Force, and he would come home in his blues and he would have his hat on and his shiny shoes.
In the morning I like to: Drink coffee.
My first job was: A chicken restaurant — but that was terrible. Then I went to work as a stock boy for my aunt and uncle who owned a shoe store.
With my very first paycheck: We were taught to save money, so I probably saved it.
I knew I was a grown-up when: We moved to Iowa and we had to pay bills and we had to pay Marcy’s tuition.
The best advice I ever got: Was from my wife, when she said if I wanted to teach I should go teach, that I should do that.
I wish I could: Find a way for more people to have Katie’s device. I would love for it to be given away for free. I wish I could help more people with the device that we made.
My favorite musician is: John Denver.
One word to sum me up: Curious.
Print Headline: HIGH PROFILE: Necessity inspires invention for Mark Doderer, co-chairman of Children's Hospital Miracle Ball