Topping off a year of fundraising, the students at the University of Connecticut once again outdid themselves, raising a record $1,328,402.19 at the annual HuskyTHON Dance Marathon, all to help sick kids at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Kids like Bianca Mollica.
Bianca’s problems started at birth. She was allergic to any kind of dairy, to soy milk, even breast milk. “Everything that went in came right back out,” said her mother, Camella. So, she brought Bianca to Connecticut Children’s, only to discover a more serious problem.
“During her admission to Connecticut Children’s, her respiration and heartbeat dropped to zero,” Camella explained. “They got it started again, but the situation kept happening.” The doctors were worried she would be a SIDS baby [sudden infant death syndrome] because this happened every time she fell asleep. Eventually, they found that if she slept in a more upright position in a bouncing chair, the problem didn’t happen. And then, by working with a nutritionist at Connecticut Children’s, they found a food plan that worked for her.
Bleeding Episodes Begin
But Bianca’s problems were not over. At 18 months, she began to have catastrophic bleeding episodes from her nose.
“The first time,” Camella said, “we heard screaming from her room, and we ran upstairs. When we opened the door, it looked like a murder scene from “CSI”: There was blood everywhere.” They took her immediately to Connecticut Children’s, where doctors got the bleeding to stop, but over the next three weeks, Bianca had 16 more major bleeding episodes. After one of them, she had lost so much blood that she was at the edge of needing a transfusion.
“After a month of testing and 32 bottles of blood, we had a diagnosis,” Camella said.
Bianca has Von Willebrand disease, which is a clotting disorder with symptoms that range from mild to severe. With a diagnosis in hand, the doctors could provide a treatment: a nasal spray that protects the blood vessels in the nostrils. Today, because of the care she received at Connecticut Children’s and her ongoing treatments, Bianca, now 9, is as active and extroverted a child as you’re likely to find.
All About the Kids!
Helping kids like Bianca is what HuskyTHON is all about. It’s actually a year-long effort, with multiple fundraising events culminating in the dance marathon itself. It’s an event in which more than 3,100 students packed the Hugh S. Greer Fieldhouse February 23 and 24, and danced for 18 hours straight. The event began Saturday at 6 p.m. with the elaborate entry of 44 Connecticut Children’s patients, who passed beneath a balloon arch and through a path cleared in the mass of cheering students with the UConn marching band playing. Each patient was adopted by a student group who came in with the patients, holding banners with the patient’s name. Rock stars don’t get that kind of welcome.
Each of the patients took to the stage and spoke to the audience before adding a piece to a puzzle forming the Connecticut Children’s logo. Then, once an hour during the marathon, the music would stop, the students would sit down, and a patient family would share their story. Then the music resumed with the “morale dance,” a fixed set of songs with an elaborate set of choreographed dance moves that everyone learned and everyone did together.
While the sight of 3,100 college students dancing for 18 hours grabs one’s attention, the more impressive hallmark of HuskyTHON is the total focus on the patients at the marathon and at the Medical Center. There is an all-encompassing commitment to help those patients and Connecticut Children’s.
Remarkably, the students showed even more energy in the last hour than they did in the first, perhaps because they knew that the fundraising total would be revealed at the end. And when that tremendous total was revealed and the students realized they had shattered previous records, you could hear the cheers and laughter across the street. There were more than a few tears, too.
“The achievement by these students is remarkable,” said Jim Shmerling, DHA, FACHE, President and CEO of Connecticut Children’s, “but even more remarkable is their spirit of caring and their dedication to the children and families we serve. They demonstrate the power of a community coming together in a common cause, and they inspire all of us every day.”
Among the Top 10
HuskyTHON is a Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals event, benefiting Connecticut Children’s. The network is a national coalition of children’s hospitals, and it supports a range of fundraising efforts like dance marathons. Each event’s proceeds go to the network’s local hospital. With this year’s total, HuskyTHON takes its place in the top 10 dance marathons in the country. And its 20-year total has surpassed $6.2 million.
But while the students at UConn rightly take pride in that accomplishment, they know the more important point is that the money they raised will help more kids like Bianca to have happy, healthy childhoods.
Are you an alumni of the University of Connecticut? Even if HuskyTHON started after you left campus, the HuskyTHON Alumni group welcomes Huskies from all graduating classes. Visit the HuskyTHON website for more details and contact information.