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Dance Marathon benefits patients at NC Children's Hospital

When Matt Ayotte’s daughter was born at N.C. Children’s Hospital 11 years ago, she weighed 1 pound, 5 ounces — nearly the size of a Coke bottle.

She was born 15 weeks early and had many complex medical issues.

“She spent 107 days there,” Ayotte said. “She was one of their miracle babies.”

He said while going through the trauma of having a child in the hospital, the smaller acts of kindness he and other parents received — such as a “parents’ night out” and a bilingual social worker — had a huge impact.

He didn’t know at the time, but those gifts came from the money raised by UNC Dance Marathon.
“It seemed like magic, like a little angel giving us these gifts,” Ayotte said.

Starting today at 7:30 p.m., students will stand on their feet for 24 hours straight to raise money for more of those gifts to be given to families with children being treated at the N.C. Children’s Hospital.

“Standing for 24 hours is symbolic of our support and shows that we are rooting for them,” said Molly Sutherland, publicity chairwoman for the event.

She said Dance Marathon is the largest nonprofit student organization on campus, and the money raised goes to 11 different grants for the N.C. Children’s Hospital.

“Generally, all of our money goes to benefit the patients and families in ways that insurance can’t,” Sutherland said.

She said planning for the event began last April, and several events have been held throughout the year.

“We celebrate and learn more about the difference that we are making,” Sutherland said.

Senior Julia Heelan said she was hooked after her first time dancing three years ago as a freshman.
“I just had a great time, and I didn’t feel the pain and exhaustion,” she said.

She said she is excited to be on the senior team of dancers — who are honored during the event for having participated four times — but she said seeing the kids at the dance will be the best part.

“It’s so much fun to see them dance and talk in their 5-year-old voices,” Heelan said.

One of those voices will be Ayotte’s daughter, Asheton, who is now in the fifth grade and has been a kid captain for the past few years.

“She raises money by selling lemonade and gives it all to Dance Marathon,” Ayotte said.

“The students are so sweet to her, and she loves to help the babies.”

Ayotte said when his family found out Dance Marathon was the source of the hospital’s generous services, they all wanted to get involved.

“We wanted to pay it forward and help families going through the same ordeal,” he said.

He added that the students involved do not realize the full impact of what they are doing.

“The theme of this year was superheroes but — I’m very serious when I say this — the students who are dancing and putting on the dance are superheroes to us.”

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Staff writer Resita Cox contributed reporting

Contact the desk editor at university@dailytarheel.com.