Sept. 23, 2011
Photo: University of Iowa Dance Marathon students volunteering at UI Children’s Hospital
Gift underscores unique partnership between UI Children's Hospital, Dance Marathon
The University of Iowa Dance Marathon's $5 million commitment to UI Children's Hospital is unprecedented in the history of the university, but it isn't surprising to anyone who knows about the long, unique and fruitful partnership the two organizations have forged over the years.
On one side of that partnership is one of the most enthusiastic and generous student organizations in the country. Not only have thousands of UI students gathered annually for 17 years to participate in a 24-hour, non-stop dance fundraiser, raising about $9.8 million for pediatric cancer research to date (the 18th annual event is Feb. 3-4, 2012), but Dance Marathon provides year-round support to pediatric patients and their families.
Each year, the hospital invites students to spend thousands of hours visiting young patients on its floors, providing entertainment, crafts, and playtimes for children receiving treatment as well as their siblings. In fact, UI Dance Marathon has a committee dedicated solely to facilitating programming within the hospital.
"UI Dance Marathon not only funds hospital projects and programs but literally becomes part of the culture within its walls," said Dance Marathon Advisor Courtney Bond. "Through volunteering opportunities lifelong friendships are forged, life lessons are realized, and students find the importance of giving of themselves."
Many Dance Marathon participants form strong bonds with patients and their families, staying in touch long after they graduate from college. And when, as sometimes happens, a child succumbs to his or her illness, the death is felt as a personal blow to the students who take part in Dance Marathon activities.
Because of that closeness, Dance Marathon participants often go above and beyond to help UI Children's Hospital patients cope with their illness and feel as at home as possible while undergoing treatment. This spirit was exemplified in a powerful way this past May.
Brittany Bettag, a Maquoketa, Iowa, High School student was diagnosed with leukemia in March. Required to stay in Iowa City while she underwent treatment, the 17-year-old lost her hair -- and her chance to attend prom. Or so she'd thought.
With help from staff at UI Children's Hospital, Dance Marathon volunteers organized a mock prom for Bettag in a small gymnasium near the pediatric unit. Wearing a purple dress and accompanied by her boyfriend, Bettag danced, enjoyed treats and even got a ride through the hospital's corridors on a golf cart driven by UI Hospitals and Clinics CEO Ken Kates.
"This is a big event in a girl's life to go to prom, and to know and recognize that those type of needs are just as important as the health needs is just fabulous," Bettag's mother, Laura Bettag, said about the event.
On the other side of the partnership is the UI Children's Hospital. With a history that dates to 1898, UI Children's Hospital opened the first facility dedicated to caring for children in 1919. Since then it has remained committed to meeting the health care needs of children and their families, offering a full spectrum of services, from health promotion and well-child care to the crisis of traumatic injury and life-threatening illness, to birth defects, chronic illness, and developmental disabilities.
UI Children's Hospital ranks among the top children's hospitals in the country. According to U.S.News & World Report's 2011-2012 edition of "Best Children's Hospitals," the hospital ranked in all 10 specialties, including the areas of orthopedics (24); nephrology (28); pulmonology (29); neonatology (31); cardiology and heart surgery (32); urology (35); gastroenterology (37); cancer (43); neurology and neurosurgery (46) and diabetes and endocrinology (48). In fact, UI Children's Hospital is the only hospital in Iowa to be nationally ranked by U.S.News & World Report for children's care.
And in 2009, a survey conducted by Parents magazine ranked UI Children's Hospital 20th in the nation, and the pediatric emergency care provided in the Emergency Treatment Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics 5th in the nation.
But the UI Children's Hospital is about more than just repairing children's bodies, critical as that work is; it strives to lift their spirits and give them and their families hope. One way it does that is through its wildly popular Honorary Kid Captain program.
Now in its third year, the Kid Captain program is a partnership between UI Children's Hospital and the Iowa Hawkeyes to honor UI Children's Hospital patients and celebrate their stories. Home game Kid Captains get to take the field during a home game, while both home game and honorary away game Kid Captains receive a commemorative jersey. And their stories are featured on television, radio, and on the Internet.
Brynn Carnahan, for instance, served as Kid Captain of the Sept. 10 game between the Hawkeyes and Iowa State University Cyclones. The 5-year-old Urbandale, Iowa girl, daughter of Matt and Angela Carnahan, underwent surgery when she was just 3 days old to have a sacrococcygeal teratoma -- a benign tumor – removed. Months later doctors performed a procedure to reposition her ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
After months of recurring infections and illness, Brynn's pediatrician referred her to UI Children's Hospital, where doctors discovered that nerve damage caused by the tumor made it difficult for Brynn to completely empty her bladder, which led to the repeated infections.
Pediatric urology specialists worked with the family and proposed a home-based treatment plan involving multiple daily catheterization changes. After two years, Brynn's infections stopped [learn more about Brynn's story, and other Kid Captains, at http://www.uihealthcare.org/kidcaptain].
UI Children's Hospital's future is only going to get brighter in the coming years. Earlier this year, the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, approved construction of a new $285 million UI Children's Hospital building in Iowa City.
The 371,600-square-foot facility will be located adjacent to UI Hospitals and Clinics, and will also encompass 56,250 square feet of renovated space in the John Pappajohn Pavilion. The 11-story structure, with three levels below ground and eight above, will offer 232 total beds, an increase from the 193 beds in the current UI Children's Hospital. There will also be eight pediatric operating rooms.
"Children's health care is becoming increasingly specialized," Thomas Scholz, M.D., interim chief of pediatrics at UI, said when the project was announced in February. "We want to continue meeting the needs of children throughout Iowa, in conjunction with community pediatricians, family practitioners and other providers. This partnership between community-based providers and UI Children's Hospital is a major factor in Iowa's ranking as the top state in the nation from a child health perspective."
Construction is targeted for completion in 2015. The project will be paid for with a combination of health care revenues, hospital bonding and private gifts – gifts like the $5 million commitment from UI Dance Marathon.
Editors: Following are several story ideas that highlight unique aspects of the University of Iowa Dance Marathon organization. For more information, or to arrange an interview with the people cited below, contact Dance Marathon Advisor Courtney Bond at 319-335-3059 or email@example.com.
360 degrees of UI Dance Marathon: Lura Carstensen got involved in Dance Marathon long before she became a student at the University of Iowa. After an older sister was diagnosed with cancer and began receiving treatment at UI Children's Hospital, Lura and her family participated in the annual Dance Marathon events to help raise money for cancer research, and to help lift her sister's spirits. Sadly, her sister eventually succumbed to her illness. But Lura's positive experience with Dance Marathon spurred her to redouble her efforts toward helping other children survive cancer. After enrolling at the UI about three years ago, Lura became a Dance Marathon dancer, then a morale captain and eventually a member of the UI Dance Marathon Executive Council, the position she holds today. Among her responsibilities is serving on the Dance Marathon Allocations Committee, and it was in that capacity that she helped make the decision to commit $5 million to the new UI Children's Hospital.
Making Students Full Partners: Many schools in the country rely solely on alumni advisory boards to decide what projects and programs to fund with proceeds from their Dance Marathon events. But at the UI, Dance Marathon students play a central role in determining allocations as members of a 15-member UI Dance Marathon Allocations Committee. The committee, which meets twice a year, includes five students, as well as members of the local community, alumni, patient families, student government, staff from the Iowa Memorial Union (the event's home) and representatives of the UI Children's Hospital.
Beyond the Marathon: Although students often get involved with Dance Marathon to improve the lives of children, it's often their own lives that are changed for the better. In fact, a number of Dance Marathon alumni say the experience not only affected their perception of themselves and the world; it guided their career choices and other life decisions.
Adam Blind, assistant director of development for the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said: "My experiences with Dance Marathon and as the 2007 Sponsorship Director directly impacted who I am today; my friends and career. My work as a development officer for the UI Foundation is just an extension of what I was given the chance to start while an undergraduate. It quite literally changed the course of my life."
Emily Mozena, a Certified Child Life Specialist, said: "Dance Marathon gave me direct experience to work with children and families, which helped me to move toward my career as a Child Life Specialist. Without Dance Marathon I would not have found a rewarding career that has defined me as a person."
Related Story: UI Dance Marathon pledges $5 million for new UI Children's Hospital
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Courtney Bond, Dance Marathon, 319-335-3059, firstname.lastname@example.org; Tom Moore, UI Children's Hospital, 319-356-3945, email@example.com; Stephen Pradarelli, University News Services, 319-384-0007, firstname.lastname@example.org