When Drayton Brindisi was born on June 27, 2008, he weighed a mere 15 ounces. His identical twin brother, Phoenix, weighed a little more—1 pound, 3 ounces—but the twins were as fragile as they were small, and they were rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center for high-level care.
At 23 weeks of age, Drayton and his brother faced a challenging uphill climb, and a few days later, Phoenix passed away peacefully in his parents’ arms. But Drayton continued to fight and on July 20, his mom and dad, Heather and Andrew Brindisi, got to hold him for the very first time.
With each passing month, Drayton became stronger, and by August 19, 2008, his breathing tube was removed. He was officially taken off the ventilator and placed on a type of respiratory support called continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, which delivered constant air pressure into his nose to help the air sacs in his lungs stay open.
On September 20, Drayton graduated from an isolette to a crib, and by November 6, he weighed 7 pounds 1.5 ounces. Finally, on December 2, Drayton—who initially was given only a 15 percent chance of survival—went home to join his family.
High-Risk Babies, World-Class Care
Each year, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center cares for nearly 2,000 premature or high-risk newborns, who are admitted into Connecticut Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Units in Hartford and Farmington, including babies transferred from other hospitals across the region.
In 2018, Connecticut Children’s cared for an additional 3,000-plus premature babies in the NICUs at Backus Hospital, Danbury Hospital, MidState Medical Center, Norwalk Hospital and Hospital of Central Connecticut. In total, 60 percent of all NICU babies in Connecticut are taken care of in Connecticut Children’s NICUs across the state, using patient care protocols developed at the Level 4 NICU in Hartford and the Level 3 NICU at UConn John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington.
Children like Drayton—and others who require world-class pediatric care for a wide range of medical issues—are the reason so many students at the University of Connecticut choose to support Connecticut Children’s Medical Center through HuskyTHON. The event began 19 years ago with a dance marathon that raised $13,878; in 2018, the students raised an amazing $1,021,485 in support of Connecticut Children’s, and this year, they have set their sights even higher.
Why Students Like Erin Support HuskyTHON
For UConn students like Erin Gallacher, who is Co-Director of Family Relations for HuskyTHON—and Drayton Brindisi’s older cousin—becoming a Husky and supporting Connecticut Children’s were easy decisions to make.
“Choosing to come to UConn was almost a no-brainer,” Erin said. “Both of my parents (Laurie and Steve Gallacher) attended UConn, so I was raised as a Husky. I went to countless UConn sporting events, homecoming parades, and other events throughout my childhood that made choosing the University of Connecticut an easy choice to continue my studies. I am from Bolton, Connecticut, which is a very small farm town located right between Hartford and UConn. Coming from such a small school, I was worried I would feel lost on a campus with thousands of people, but I quickly found my niche with my HuskyTHON family.
“I vaguely knew about HuskyTHON before attending UConn,” Erin admitted. “My cousin, Drayton, has been treated at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and was a permanent resident of the NICU for a large portion of his first year of life and has been a frequent flyer since then. Because of his continuous treatment at Connecticut Children’s, he has been attending HuskyTHON for years.
“Before leaving for UConn, he made me promise that I would do HuskyTHON, and it was the best decision I have ever made,” Erin added. “I immediately sought HuskyTHON out at UConn’s involvement fair the second week of my freshman year. I was intrigued to learn more about it, as I have only heard about the event through the eyes of a child. I found that it is much more than an 18-hour dance marathon, and I was eager to get started as a dancer.
“The first year I participated in HuskyTHON, I was a dancer on a small team I organized with some people in my dorm,” she explained. “The entire night I was blown away by every detail, and I knew I wanted to be part of the team that makes it all happen and be connected to the national Dance Marathon community. I wanted to be a part of something much bigger than myself, and this was the perfect opportunity.
“Now, I am one of the Co-Directors of Family Relations for HuskyTHON 2019, which in my opinion, is by far the best role on the executive board simply because of the relationships I have been able to form with the families,” said Erin, who puts in anywhere from 8 to 15 hours a week, attending meetings and doing promotional work. “My goal is to make sure the kids and families that are a part of HuskyTHON are involved in different events throughout the year and are enjoying their time.
“This year, we have invited HuskyTHON families to participate in promotional videos, march alongside us in the homecoming parade and attend smaller HuskyTHON fundraisers at schools around Connecticut,” she explained. “Additionally, I organized HuskyTHON game nights at Connecticut Children’s, where different HuskyTHON participants go into the hospital and play games with the patients.”
“On top of the numerous fundraisers we have throughout the year, HuskyTHON has a large on-campus presence engaging as many students as we can,” Erin noted. “For example, for Child Health Day this past year, we set up a board labeled “I dance for…” in the middle of campus. Throughout the day, we had people filling the board out with reasons why they dance for the kids. This not only got people excited for HuskyTHON, but it motivated others to sign up and begin participating.
“HuskyTHON not only supports Connecticut Children’s, but it also gives patients and families a night of pure fun and enjoyment,” Erin said. “It serves a dual-purpose, which makes it the best philanthropic organization at UConn to support.”