Championing Kids

Children’s Miracle Network raises awareness locally and nationally

By By Deena C. Bouknight

Since he was 3 months old, Braden Green, now 12, has been in and out of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital-Midlands (formerly Palmetto Health Richland). He was diagnosed at birth with sickle cell hemoglobin SC disease, a genetic blood disorder in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells. Millions of people suffer complications from sickle cell disease, according to Stanford Children’s Health statistics; sickle cells contain abnormal hemoglobin, blocking blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs.

Although this blood cell abnormality results in pain, organ damage, and increased risk of infection, Braden has experienced much excitement, joy, and purpose due to an organization called Children’s Miracle Network (CMN). Braden, in fact, is the current CMN Champion.

“Our impression with the Children’s Miracle Network has been nothing but positive,” says Brenda Green, Braden’s mother. “Knowing that they support children and their families, and help to reduce or eliminate worries that a parent may have, can only be commended.”

CMN has existed since 1983; primarily, the organization’s purpose is to raise funds for and awareness of its 170 member hospitals that provide 32 million treatments each year to kids across the United States and Canada. Since its founding, CMN has raised more than $5 billion, primarily through its $1-at-a-time Miracle Balloon icon, seen at various retail outlets; donations raised through local CMN efforts stay local to fund critical treatments and health care services, pediatric medical equipment, and charitable care. Their mission is: to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible.

Braden’s life is one of those helped tremendously by CMN, according to his mother. “I’ve never once worried about whether there was appropriate equipment available to support Braden during any of his PICU [pediatric intensive care unit] or other hospital stays. I’ve never worried about whether there was any specialty physician available to treat him during any of his stays. Our children’s hospital supports the entire family with their resources from Child Life staff, nurses, and techs to physicians. We are truly blessed. CMN helps with this.”

“Braden was selected to be the CMN Champion for Prisma Health Children’s Hospital-Midlands due to his battle with sickle cell disease,” says Lynn Hazel, director of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, at Prisma Health Midlands Foundation. “He has been visiting our children’s hospital since he was 3 months old, and he more than likely will visit there until he transitions to adult care. He exemplifies perseverance, strength, and resilience, and he understands the importance of the role our children’s hospital plays in his life.”

Lynn shares that criteria for selecting a CMN Champion include:
– the child has been impacted directly by funds raised by CMN Hospitals;
–  the child and/or parent are willing to speak openly about the child’s medical story;
– the family has been engaged in or is willing to engage in fundraising and awareness activities for the hospital; and,
–  the family is willing/able to travel to events and activities throughout the local CMN market area.

“It’s also helpful if the family has a specific connection to a CMN Hospitals program or partner,” adds Lynn.

Children involved as CMN Champions participate in all types of activities to promote the goals and mission of CMN. Lynn explains that Braden “has recorded promos with WIS-TV, which is a supporter of our children’s hospital. He’s visited some of the CMN partners’ stores to thank them personally, and he has encouraged the community to donate. He has participated in the Miss South Carolina pageant. He has also started his own fundraising campaign to raise money in support of CMN. Braden and his family are doing an amazing job sharing the Children’s Hospital story and helping raise more funds to help local kids.”

Future Generations Moved

Another purpose of CMN is as a vehicle to spread awareness of the different illnesses or local needs of children’s hospitals to the community at large. Atlanta, Georgia, native and rising University of South Carolina Senior Justin Gill became intrigued when he listened to a fellow student speak, while weeping, about how children and their parents benefitted from CMN. During his sophomore year he became involved, along with thousands of other USC students, in the popular spring CMN Dance Marathon, a national initiative of the organization’s to get “this generation fighting for the next,” as CMN cites in its marketing.

“I caught the bug,” admits Justin. “Listening to the parents’ testimonies was so impactful for me.”

Justin, a finance and accounting major, stepped up and last year filled the role of director of finance. “It’s not typical for someone with my major to get involved with CMN,” he says. “Usually, it’s students entering the medical field. But I felt right away that my skills could help out. I felt such a calling to do this … to be in leadership with Dance Marathon.” This year, he was elected president of USC Dance Marathon 2020.

CMN’s Dance Marathon is a movement impacting college, university, and high school students across North America. For a year prior to each Dance Marathon event, volunteer students (about 300 on the USC campus, according to Justin) spend a year gaining leadership, teamwork, and nonprofit business experience while raising funds and awareness for their local CMN Hospital – which, locally, is Prisma Health Children’s Hospital-Midlands.

The 2020 Dance Marathon is scheduled for February 29th.  The 14-hour event, held at the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center on the USC campus, enables thousands of participating students to “meet” patient families and the children – who present periodically during the event – as well as watch dance routine acts, play games, enjoy other entertainment and, of course, dance.  During the Marathon, funds are raised for specific Children’s Hospital needs and throughout the event the numbers are revealed until the final fundraising total is announced at the end of the Dance Marathon.

While the culminating Dance Marathon is a main event for CMN volunteers, Justin points out that more opportunities have arisen throughout the year for young people to serve selflessly:  “[This past year] we had two fundraising ‘push days’ in which we aimed to raise awareness for Prisma Health – Midlands. We put on our first-ever fall push day called Day of Promise that was inspired off of our campaign from last year, ‘We Promise,’ at which we fundraised $55,022! We also had one in January called For Ever to Thee Kids day, which is a big annual fundraising day to raise awareness around campus for the kids in the hospital; we raised $107,127 in 24 hours. We also helped advise at eight mini marathons put on by community high schools, such as Cardinal Newman and Wilson Hall.”

In total, Justin shares that all of last year’s Dance Marathon fund-raising efforts exceeded $1 million.

Dance Marathon monies have specifically funded the hospital’s playground and child life program. “These are ways to make the hospital a little less scary of an experience for the children,” says Justin. “They relieve stress on parents, families, the children – everyone involved.”

Explains Hazel, other areas that CMN Hospitals partners and programs supported last year include: child abuse, gastroenterology, pharmacy, inpatient rehabilitation, nursing education, endocrinology, health and injury prevention, neonatal intensive care unit, security, epilepsy monitoring unit, pediatric intensive care unit, and diabetes education.

A favorite activity for USC volunteers of CMN Dance Marathon is to visit periodically the hospital and participate in arts and crafts with the children. “We see kids really being able to be themselves, no matter what they’ve been through.”

Even though Justin says many USC students participate in the Dance Marathon because it is a fun event, anticipated is the shared information about CMN’s purpose as well as the testimonies of families “who have been impacted by the Child Life Program and from our staff members directly, whether it be from babysitting, craft days at the hospital, etc. These testimonies are very eye-opening.”

Braden and dozens of other children touched by CMN look forward to Dance Marathon, as well as other CMN activities throughout the year. Braden, in fact, will attend his third Dance Marathon in February.

“The last few years he has really enjoyed it and danced in the background within the USCDM crowd,” shares his mother. “Braden is a very reserved child, but he likes doing good things for people and being a good role model and inspiration to other children.”

Deena C. Bouknight’s daughter, Madeline, due to birth defects, served as a Children’s Miracle Network child in many capacities from age 6 to 9. She, along with a handful of other CMN children, cut the ribbon on the children’s hospital in 2008. Madeline is now 20 and in her junior year of college. 

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