UConn Students Celebrate 41 Miracle Families

Categories: Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Events
Audrey Pavlok poses with model and New England Patriots Cheerleader, Camille Kostek.

Seven-year-old Audrey Pavlok has more energy and enthusiasm than you would think could possibly be contained in one girl. She is always in motion, usually smiling and talking a blue streak with sentences that mostly end in exclamation points. And on the weekend of February 22 and 23, she found the perfect outlet for all that energy and enthusiasm: UConn’s 2020 HuskyTHON.

This 18-hour dance marathon is the final piece of a year-long fundraising effort by UConn students to support Connecticut Children’s, an effort that this year broke all records by raising more than $1.5 million. The marathon is one of hundreds across the country that are held under the auspices of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. For each of those events, the money raised goes to the local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, in this case, Connecticut Children’s.

“I loved the food, the dancing, the people, everything. My favorite thing was dancing with the big kids.” -Audrey Pavlok

Audrey’s Rough Start

Audrey was one of 41 patients who joined 3,000 UConn students in dancing the night away. Watching her dance onstage with the students, you would never guess that she has a major medical condition. But she was born with multiple intestinal atresias, blockages that prevent food getting from the stomach to the intestines and so to the body. When she was 24 hours old, she had most of her intestines removed. She spent her first eight months in the hospital and now gets most of her nutrition through a gastronomy tube that goes to her stomach and a central line that takes nutrition straight into her veins.

Audrey Pavlok spent a lot of her time on the stage, dancing with “the big kids.” Here, she is the center of attention.

Kids who get their nutrition through a central line are at an elevated risk of blood infections. So, every time Audrey gets a fever, she is automatically admitted to Connecticut Children’s for several days and given antibiotics until the fever clears. In fact, she was in a room on the sixth floor the week after HuskyTHON for just that reason (and her nurse was the same who cared for her when she was born). She is well-known and well-loved at the hospital.

Of HuskyTHON, she says, “I loved the food, the dancing, the people, everything. My favorite thing was dancing with the big kids.” And she did, in fact, spend most of her time on stage under the lights with the dance leaders.

Our Kids Are Their Focus

Among the entertainments for patients and UConn students was a mechanical bull.

Connecticut Children’s patients were the center of attention throughout HuskyTHON and entered the Hugh S. Greer Field house like rock stars, under and arch of balloons and through a human tunnel formed by throngs of cheering students. Each child was introduced onstage with their sponsoring student groups. There were speeches by various dignitaries, Connecticut Children’s President and CEO Jim Shmerling and President and COO Gil Peri, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, who appeared in a prerecorded video to read a statement declaring February 22, 2020, as HuskyTHON Day in Connecticut.

In addition to dancing, there were bouncy houses and bull-riding machines, a live band and lots of playful costumes.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

A Connecticut Children’s patient cuts off the hospital wristbands each student was given when they entered HuskyTHON, symbolizing the release of the students from their obligation to HuskyTHON and remembering the children still in the hospital.

On Sunday, HuskyTHON closed with several events. The president of UConn, Tom Katsouleas, congratulated the students on their work to help Connecticut Children’s kids. That was followed by the Circle of Hope, in which all the students formed a huge circle, and the Connecticut Children’s patients went around that circle cutting off the yellow hospital bracelets that each dancer received upon entering. It symbolized releasing the college students from their 18-hours of service, while remembering the children who are in the hospital, and, continuing their fight.

There were very few dry eyes in the room. “It was very emotional,” Audrey’s mother, Brianna, said.

The amount of money raised this year by UConn students was truly astonishing.

And then, of course, at noon on Sunday, there was the final reveal, showing that remarkable record-breaking fundraising total of $1,520,234.98. Including that amount with previous years’ totals means that overall HuskyTHON has generated almost $8 million to help kids at Connecticut Children’s.

“Every dollar raised at HuskyTHON supports our patients and families,” said Jim Shmerling. “This includes everyone from our tiniest babies fighting for their lives in the NICU to children and teens battling cancer; to kids who are injured or suffering a behavioral health crisis and are brought to Connecticut Children’s Emergency Department, where they are evaluated, kept safe and provided with the follow-up care they need. With the students’ help, we will continue to advance and deliver pediatric care every day, because every child deserves a chance for a bright future.”

View photos from HuskyTHON 2020

“This year, HuskyTHON’s mission has been to “Brighten Tomorrow,” said Emma Kryzanski, Executive Director of HuskyTHON 2020, a senior physiology and neurobiology major at the University of Connecticut and a fourth-year HuskyTHON participant. “I’m proud to say we have taken a giant step toward creating a brighter tomorrow for many children throughout the region.”

Connecticut Children’s patient Michael Ribera holds a light globe during HuskyTHON.

The dancing at UConn may be over for this year, but you can still join them—click here to support sick kids at Connecticut Children’s.