Alli Schimmel

It was a warm day in May, right before I noticed a rash all over my legs accompanied with an unbearable amount of pain. The year was 2006; I was 6 years old and just about to finish the first grade. This was right before my dance recital, I was not sure if I would be able to push through the pain, but I ended up doing so and dancing to the song ‘Lollipop’ while holding a pink styrofoam oversized lollipop to add to the visuals. Directly after the recital had ended I was brought to a local hospital. When they informed my parents that they could not identify what was wrong, I was then transferred to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, a Children’s Miracle Network hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. After a 2 week long hospital stay, it was revealed that I had Still’s disease, a form of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

Perhaps the worst part of this diagnosis was being prescribed doses of steroids, each delivered through shots. Each Friday, my dad had to give me these shots on my thigh. This would trigger a great deal of anxiety, causing me to get sick before or after it was delivered. This was not the only stress that the shots had caused me, as it also stunted my growth. For an entire year I did not grow at all, and also gained a lot of weight as a side effect to the medicine. In many ways, this forced me to second guess my abilities, particularly my love for dance. I believed I did not have the right look or build as my other peers to take on the stage to dance. While these thoughts went through my head, I had decided to persevere and to expand my love for dance that I once had and dance competitively. However, I was unable to do a lot of the choreography as a result of joint pain. This caused a greater deal of anxiety and belief that I was failing everyone. In addition, my dance teacher would call me “fat” and many times poked fun at my inabilities. It was nearly impossible to push through all of this. After that year, I stopped dancing competitively and only took one class. It was as if my love for dance was completely ruined, all as a result of my diagnoses. 

My parents had noticed my confidence and self esteem decrease immensely and looked at new schools for me, where I could hopefully find myself again. I then began attending Garrison Forest School in my 4th grade year. This was an all-girls school, and after a few short months, my parents saw a complete change in me. I began to take more and more dance classes, and found joy again. A few years later, I ended up stopping dancing entirely, solely because I had gotten more involved at school and found a deep love for the stage through musical theatre. 

My entire world changed the summer before my senior year of high school when I had found out that my mother’s breast cancer had spread beyond her breast, and to the spinal fluid, her brain, and the rest of her body. When she passed away peacefully in hospice care, I knew that I wanted to work in a field that would make an impact on people. I wanted to be someone that would be remembered one way or another. This was when I came to the epiphany that I would want to be an Elementary Education major, just as my mother was, and be an inspiration to many just as she was to her students. When I was meeting with my college counselor and formulating a list of potential places to attend, she turned to me and said “you know, I think you need to find a school with a Dance Marathon program, that is an atmosphere I see you thriving in.” Little did she know, she was right. After being accepted to the University of Maryland, it met our criteria and I knew that was the school for me. 

While participating in Terp Thon, it was as if I was brought back to my childhood. I stood on my feet and danced my heart out. Sure I was in pain from all the time spent dancing, but that did not stop me from wanting to keep going. I watched the Miracle Kids do the same. What particularly stood out to me was the Miracle Kid Talent Show, where each of the Miracle Kids displayed a talent and proved to be more than their diagnoses. This was inspiring to not just me, but everyone in attendance. This triggered a memory of my third grade self, when I decided to participate in my camp talent show and sing to “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. That was the first time in a while that I could just be myself. The amount of joy I had on stage then, reminded me of the joy the Miracle Kids had on stage now. 

Here I am today, and I could not be more ecstatic to be involved in Terp Thon this year. I am a member of the Morale Committee, and doing just as I had always wanted. I get to make an impact on the College Park community, and most importantly, the kids. The smiles that we as members on morale get to inspire is something I will always treasure. In fact, the love I have for Terp Thon has grown so much that I am currently in the process of starting a Dance Marathon Program at Garrison Forest, to allow them to make miracles just as we do at College Park. I participate in Terp Thon for those that need more happiness and hope in their life, just as my first grade self would have. I am so grateful to have a community that cares about this so much, and I cannot wait to play a role in all of it. So THANK YOU for giving me the opportunity, I look forward to all the smiles and joy we can spread at Terp Thon 2020.

Brenna Hohl

My journey with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals began as a personal one, starting out as a patient in one when I was in middle school. The hospital can be a very scary place filled with endless stressors, especially the stress of waiting for a diagnosis. I am forever grateful for the exceptional care I was able to receive; more importantly, I am grateful for the activities I was able to occupy my time and distract myself with during my stay thanks to philanthropy. I knew coming into college that I wanted to get involved in Terp Thon to give back to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals; in addition to providing me an outlet to do so, being a part of Terp Thon has allowed me to immerse myself in and give back to something bigger than myself. Being a part of Terp Thon has reinforced my desire to go into medicine, specifically the field of pediatrics, some day. Being able to raise funds and awareness For The Kids at Children’s National for patients and families we will never have the chance to meet for the past three years has been the best and most meaningful part of my college experience so far.

Elyse Broder

My name is Elyse Broder and I am a rising sophomore from Rochester, NY studying psychology, and this will be my second year on the Public Relations  Committee. My Terp Thon experience started in the fall of my freshman year (2018). A friend of mine from home had just graduated from UMD and told me that one of the first things I absolutely had to do was apply to be on Terp Thon Planning Team.  I took her advice and made sure to apply as soon as the application went out.

While I do not have a specific connection to Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC, I do have a very personal connection to a pediatric condition.  My twin brother and I were born 12 weeks premature. We spent seven weeks in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at Albany Medical Center and were on ventilators for the first 48 hours of our lives.  We also required feeding tubes and were attached to monitors measuring our heart and respiratory rates. NICU nurses had to check our monitors almost every 15 minutes. This was a terrifying time for my parents; two kids, born at 28 weeks, with two new parents living in a new city all by themselves.  

During our time in the NICU, the neonatologists and neonatal nurses went above and beyond every single day caring for my brother and I, while also giving my parents hope that one day they could bring their newborns home.  My parents had a special relationship with one nurse in particular named Allison. She was incredibly protective of my brother and I and provided my parents with endless support. The NICU also allowed parents to call 24 hours a day to receive updates about their babies at any time.  I am incredibly lucky to have been taken such amazing care of by the NICU staff at Albany Medical Center. Without them, my brother and I might not have survived.

Terp Thon helps raise money for children with numerous illnesses and conditions, such as prematurity.  I owe it to my nurses and doctors to raise awareness, fundraise, and stand for 12 hours (the average shift of a nurse at Children’s National) to honor them and fight for the kids who need help just like I did.  Terp Thon has inspired me to make a difference and help children and families in need. After experiencing my first Dance Marathon in 2019, I was blown away by the strength, positivity, and hope that our Miracle Kids possessed.  I participate in Terp Thon for them, and plan to be a part of Terp Thon Planning Team throughout the rest of my time at UMD. I cannot wait to continue making a difference For The Kids!

Aaryn Zimmerman

Hi, my name is Aaryn! I am a member of the Family Relations committee this year, but my Journey with Children’s National started 5 years ago when I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer.

I could tell you everything cancer took from me. I could tell you how it took my freedom, my innocence, and my carefree youth. But I choose to tell you something different.

Cancer cannot take away how I choose to use my finite gift of time.  Cancer cannot take away how I choose to bless others with my gift of health.  Cancer cannot prevent me from being a force of positivity and a voice and an advocate for wellness and health.  Cancer cannot stop me from bringing comfort and peace and happiness to those experiencing fear and conflict and sadness.  

I have made a conscious choice to return to the place where I finally received answers and care, because I want to make sure my legacy of wellness and giving prevails. That place is Children’s National Medical Center.  It is at Children’s National Medical Center where the staff shared their finite gift of time with me. It is the fabulous Children’s National family who brought me comfort and peace and happiness during those hours and weeks and months when I was filled with fear and conflict and sadness.

When I tutor patients at Children’s National, I’m sharing the gift of my mind; when I hold a newborn baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I’m sharing my gift of comfort.  And when I dress up as Dr. Bear and dance through the hallways of the inpatient units, I’m spreading my legacy of warmth and happiness.

Sometimes when I volunteer, I see a mother and I recognize a familiar look in her eyes, one that my own mother often had when I was a patient at Children’s.

I look for an opportunity to engage with that mom and do anything to bring her comfort. Even if it’s simply watching her child for a few minutes while she takes a break or bringing her a cup of coffee.

And as I walk past the Terp Thon bear station in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, I think of how far we’ve come, and how far we can go. Since 2010, Terp Thon has raised over four million dollars!!! Because of the money students like you have raised, Children’s National can continue to provide hope to families who need it most.

Terp Thon brings light during the darkest times in these family’s lives.  I have experienced and witnessed that light firsthand. I’d like to challenge each of you to continuing being that light by helping Miracle Kids and their families face these obstacles head-on and move past. To our Children’s National Health System family, thank you for walking with me and the Miracle Kids and the families of the Miracle kids through our longest hours.

Audrey Statchan

When I was a kid, I was super active and enjoyed playing sports more than almost anything else. When I was in high school, I was very involved with competitive cheerleading. I was at the gym almost every day, working on learning new skills as well as making my current skills more consistent.

I got my first concussion when I was 16 from tumbling. The recovery was not very long, since this was my first one, and I was able to get back to practicing pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I suffered two more diagnosed concussions in the next year in addition to some smaller head injuries. After the last concussion, I was experiencing severe head and neck pain everyday for months. I also was having to take time off of school and even when I was able to return, my schoolwork was still negatively impacted. The worst part for me though was that I had to stop practicing the sport I loved.

Luckily, I saw a concussion specialist who referred me to Children’s National. At Children’s my neurologist gave me various treatment plan options that my family and I could choose between. He was extremely flexible and understanding of my situation. He referred me to other doctors like physical therapists and massage therapists who also helped me recover.

Because of Children’s, I was able to slowly ease back into exercising as my symptoms subsided. Although I still suffer lingering side effects of my concussions, I am now healthy enough that I can train and compete with club triathlon here at the University of Maryland. I am lucky that I was able to be treated by such a quality health care system, and I want every child to have the same opportunities and care that I was able to have.

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Aishu Jayapal

My name is Aishu and I am a senior Physiology-Neurobiology and Psychology major and this is my first year on TTPT. My journey with Children’s National began during my sophomore year during which I was a Patient Care Volunteer on the floor 6 East, the hematology/oncology unit. This experience was emotionally vivid, as I was given the opportunity to directly interact with all the children on the floor, play games with them, talk to their parents, understand their stories, and be a part of their lives. Shortly after, I started volunteering with a program called DC STRIVE, where students like myself from the University of Maryland offer mentorship and support to doubly vulnerable, low-income sickle cell anemia patients at Children’s National.

Being able to watch these teens grow into decisive, resilient young adults who are empowered for success beyond grade school and know how to effectively navigate the unique struggles of chronic illness is such a rewarding experience. Even in the face of distress and illness, working with the clinicians and staff is an immensely valuable experience and has shaped my lifelong interest in wanting to help families cope with severe pediatric illness.

I can truly say that Children’s National holds a special place in my heart and has greatly shaped the image of the type of doctor I wish to become one day. I hope my story inspires you all to look for your own unique ways to change the world around you!

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Doug Yeager

My name is Doug Yeager and I am currently a senior majoring in neurobiology and physiology. This is my fourth year participating in Terp Thon and I am currently on the Morale Committee for my third year on Planning Team. Terp Thon has had a tremendous impact on my life. My Terp Thon journey started after dancing for twelve hours my freshman year, and I saw what kind of a difference I could make in the world. I learned from all of the Miracle Kids about everything they have gone through and got to see the smile on their faces when performing the morale dance. I was impressed by the 300 hardworking, committed students working so hard to put on such a great event. This inspired to me to want to get more involved in the cause. After dancing, I joined planning team and joined more organizations where I got to help others who needed it.

This inspired me to change my major from chemical engineering to neurobiology and physiology pursuing a pre-med track. I realized that for the rest of my life I wanted to have that same impact on people everyday. I can thank Terp Thon for opening up my eyes and allowing me to see the difference one person can make on another, and how tremendous of an impact thousands of dancers coming together can make. I am excited to enjoy my senior year while pursuing a career that will allow me to make a difference every single day. Terp Thon has been life changing for me and I can’t wait to make the most of it as a senior this March!

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David Akerman

Those who know me know that two of the most important people in my life are my little brother, Matías (10), and my older sister, Talia (22). They are my two Whys when it comes to Terp Thon. Starting with Mati, when he was little, he spent a lot of time in the hospital. Visiting him in the hospital, I would see many other kids having to spend lots of time getting treated and I always wanted to do something to help, but I could never think of anything. A couple of years later, my sister Talia was able to help me figure out how I could help. In her time at the University of Florida, she was extremely involved with their Dance Marathon, and she would constantly explain to me how life-changing her experience was and how great of an effect it had on her life. Hearing her stories and seeing the pictures and videos of her experiences helped me figure out how I could finally help the kids.

Getting involved in Dance Marathon in college, at whatever college I wound up at, would be how I could help. After being a dancer during my freshman year for Terp Thon, I decided that I wanted to get more involved and play a larger role, so I joined the Public Relations Committee this year. Being on Planning Team allows me to have an increased role, see more of what my efforts are going towards, and make a greater impact. Terp Thon has really changed my perspective on life and given me some of the greatest smiles that I have had in my life. Since joining Terp Thon, I’ve been able to have more opportunities to make people smile, which is one of the things that I enjoy most in life, and I’ve also been able to smile more myself. For everything that Terp Thon has given me and will continue to give me in the future, I am forever grateful.

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Juliana MacRini

I entered the University of Maryland as a biology major with no idea what I was going to do with my degree. I decided after my freshman year that I wanted to change my major, and because of Terp Thon, I settled on kinesiology so that I could become a physical therapist. Our Miracle Kids inspired me with the challenges they have overcome. They made me want to make stays for the kids in hospital easier and more fun and to help them gain their lives back. I am specifically looking to pursue pediatric physical therapy as a result of Terp Thon being a part of my life.

My Terp Thon journey started my freshman year when I attended the Dance Marathon with my sorority. I joined Planning Team that spring after seeing my sister Krysten be so involved. She made me fall in love with the organization.

Being a part of this organization these past few years has given me insight into just how big of an impact our efforts have. The art therapy rooms at the hospital that act as a safe haven for kids are possible because of our efforts. The Bunny Mellon Healing Garden where all kids, regardless of their medical restrictions, can go outside and feel like a kid are a result of our efforts. The fact that no child is turned away based on their ability to pay is because of our efforts. I am honored to stand for 12 hours each year to represent and honor the amazing nurses and doctors at the hospital.

Terp Thon gave me an organization that I could fully dedicate my time to. An organization that I am passionate about. An organization with hundreds of amazing people that have stories and passion that I would not know about if I had never attended the Dance Marathon my freshman year. With my last year as an undergraduate member of Terp Thon, I want to get as many people engaged as possible. I want everyone to see the possibilities we can create and the passion and energy that fills the Armory at our Dance Marathon. I want to get people excited for Terp Thon and connected the way my friend did for me my freshman year.

When I graduate next semester, my Terp Thon journey is not over. I will stay connected through Terp Thon Alumni Network. I also hope to do a placement during PT school at Children’s National.

Terp Thon has impacted so many lives and it has changed the course of my life. It has shaped my career and I am forever thankful to this organization.

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Kieran O’Connor

Hi! I’m Kieran O’Connor and I am a sophomore Middle School Math and Science Education major at University of Maryland. I have always been For The Kids and even applied to Maryland because of the amazing Miracle Network Dance Marathon program already in place here! However, this past semester my Why was altered.

I spent about a month and a half in the hospital this past semester over a 3 month period. From the adenovirus, to pancreatitis, to developing recurring neurological symptoms, I was exposed to much medical jargon, but I was also exposed to a lot of worry, loneliness, and confusion. Don’t get me wrong, my nurses were extraordinary and very kind, but it was hard to not feel down when the universe has stacked things against you.

One thing that continuously came to my mind, though, was how our  Miracle Kids must feel. I am 19 years old with much more development and cognitive reasoning on my side, a 10 year old like my home girl Brooke would probably think of the situation very differently than I was. And that’s when my Why changed.

Terp Thon fundraises for more than just medical jargon. We fundraise for kids to be kids. We fundraise for packs of Uno cards, for smiley face stress balls, for arts and  crafts and SO MUCH MORE! Terp Thon reminds the patients at Children’s National that childhood and fun can still exist.

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Liz Mehalick

My journey with Children’s National Medical Center began in 2008, when a misdiagnosis of the flu resulted in me being airlifted to Children’s in a near-comatose state. I was in the severe stages of diabetic ketoacidosis, and would not have made it to the next hour without the quick response of the Children’s National team. It has been 10 years since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and in that time, Children’s has been with me every step of the way. Because of Children’s I have learned how to live with a chronic illness. Because of Children’s summer program, Brainy Camps, I get to volunteer with kids with chronic illnesses and show them that their condition doesn’t define who they are. Because of what Children’s has done for me all of these years, now I can give back to help other kids like me with Terp Thon. Because of Children’s I am ready for the journey ahead. And right now, the future is looking pretty bright!

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Rachel Brinien

Growing up outside of Philly, I constantly saw college students canning for Penn State’s THON. My parents and I donated every time we saw a can. Soon those can donations turned into donations for my eldest brother as he took the brave steps to be a participant in Penn States’ THON. After experiencing Dance Marathons through him, and seeing the impact organizations like this could make, I knew I had to get more involved. During my senior year of high school, I was a part of the first ever mini marathon. I served as the Morale/Spirit Committee Chair. This is where my love for Dance Marathons really grew. It was life changing to be a part of the first ever event at my school. In our short year we were able to raise over $30,000! Seeing the event run smoothly, and seeing the major impact my small hometown high school could make, motivated me to get involved with Terp Thon when I arrived at Maryland.

At the First Look Fair I practically ran to the Terp Thon table to get more information. I applied to be on the Morale Committee again as I had so much being the motivator for my high school mini marathon. I had an incredible time preparing for Terp Thon throughout the year, but it was on the day of Dance Marathon that I realized just how special this organization was. I’ll never forget at the beginning of our 12 hours when we introduced the Miracle Kids. A bunch of Planning Team members created a bridge and each kid ran through. I just remember watching each kid run through with a smile, and my eyes began to fill with tears. That is when it truly hit me: they are the reason I am on my feet for 12 hours. They are the reasons I spent hours creating and practicing the Morale dance. They are the reason I stand out in the freezing cold to go canning. I saw their smiles, and I realized the importance of what I am doing. I remember talking to Samerya and hearing the impact Children’s National had on her. Yet again I am serving on the Morale Committee where I hope to keep the dancers involved all throughout Dance Marathon.

I am pushing to get more of my friends involved this year so that they can have the same incredible experience that I was given through Terp Thon. Although I never had a personal connection to Children’s National, Terp Thon has helped me to put my own life into perspective. Just because I was fortunate enough to have a healthy childhood does not guarantee that everyone I know will. I want to take advantage of the fact that I was lucky and help others. It is so easy to make an impact, and even if that impact is small, it is still an impact. Every little thing Terp Thon does has a positive effect on the kids of Children’s National, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.

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Camryn Dahl

Although I just joined Terp Thon this year, my journey began long before I even realized it. When I was two and a half years old, I underwent surgery at a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, for a rare congenital heart defect. Luckily, I was able to leave this hospital happy and healthy, but not every child who enters a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital is this lucky. I want every child to be able to check out of a hospital and go on to experience a happy childhood like I did. From my personal experience with pediatric illness, I understand how important it is to provide support and help to patients and their families at Children’s National. My experience coupled with my exposure to Terp Thon through various walks and mini marathons led me join Terp Thon Planning Team this year. Since joining Planning Team, I have realized how interested I am in healthcare policy. As a public policy major, I have learned a lot about the economic burden of various illnesses and diseases. People can go bankrupt simply trying to keep their child alive.

As my Terp Thon journey continues, I want to further my involvement, learn more about how the money we fundraise works and expand my knowledge of health care policy to help children and families at Children’s National.

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Brooke Boyette

My journey with Terp Thon started because I wanted to get involved on campus, and I saw how much everyone in it said they enjoyed it. I also have a personal connection to child illness because my sister, Christy who is 9 years old, has Crohns Disease. She was diagnosed when she was 6, and I have watched her struggle with it and come in and out of the hospital since. She is not treated at Children’s National, but I thought this was the best way I could help other kids like her or in worse situations. I am on the recruitment committee because I love people and showing off what I am enjoying doing. Ever since I joined Terp Thon I have found a new part of me and I have learned so much about myself and philanthropy.

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