Over 500 University of Louisville students danced for 18 hours on Friday night, not for a fun night out on the town, but for the kids. Raise Red, UofL’s dance marathon, challenges its dancers to fight through the night in support of kids suffering from childhood cancer.
Whas11’s Angie Fenton, who emceed all 18 hours of the event and worked with Raise Red throughout the year, waves her black and white checkered flag for the UofL Raise Red dancers to start their engines and keep on dancing. Fenton said to the student dancers as they piled in for the night, “Stick with us for the long haul.” The remaining dancers at the end of 18 hours were happy they did stick with it.
Raise Red benefits Dr. Lucas of University of Louisville Hospital and his research concerning childhood cancer. This year Dr. Lucas was named one of the Best Doctors in America, which is known worldwide honor that only five percent of doctors in the U.S. earn, by Best Doctors Inc.
Dr. Lucas said, “The day a kid is diagnosed with cancer is probably the worst day of those parents’ life and that kid’s life, and we can do so much more in support of them because of what you’re doing.” Dr. Lucas talked about how the research his clinic accomplishes is important, “Now 90 percent of kids with leukemia survive. We’re one of three pediatric vaccine centers in the country.”
Keith Inman, Vice President of University Advancement, passionately declared to dancers, "this is one if the events that makes UofL, UofL." Inman showed just how passionate he is about Raise Red when he said, “Yesterday you raised $9,000 and before noon you raised $4,000. I challenge you to raise 25,000 more by the time we leave tomorrow, and if you do it, when I come back tomorrow I'll match that 25,000.”
As dancers start to feel the call of their beds at home, the momentum at Raise Red skyrockets to new heights. And with the stroke of midnight, Fenton recognizes four dancers who chose to celebrate their birthday dancing so that children with childhood cancer might also have another birthday. Fenton reminds dancers that Raise Red is about “genuinely saving lives one dancer at a time” and to stay with us throughout the night because you won’t regret it.
“I’m slowing down and I need your help,” said Fenton looking for motivation to push through the exhaustion over the crowd of dancers resembling an energizer bunny. Dancers are reminded to stay throughout the night and morning for one of the most rewarding experiences of their college years. Fenton reminds the crowd of dancers, “We’re set for a record breaking year and Louisville is watching you.”
At 3 a.m. student dancers are exhausted, counting down the hours and minutes until they can jump into a soft sleep, and anxiously wondering if they have the energy to make it through the night. And when they want to stop moving, leave for the warmth of their bed at home, and escape to sleep, the dancers are reminded of their wristband. The wristband that symbolizes a child’s hospital band reminds each dancer of why they dance.
At 6 a.m. Shayna, a 13 year old girl, tells her story to Raise Red dancers. As her mother read Shayna’s story to hundreds of dancers, the room fell silent to the voices of their story of Shayna’s hard road to fight for her own life. Shayna’s mom explained how her daughter suffers from a life threatening blood disorder called ITP. She said, “Shayna really wants people to know it's not contagious, and she doesn't look sick but she may not feel good, she has to be careful. She can still hang out though.”
When Shayna’s mom reads her letter declaring, “I have ITP, but ITP doesn’t have me,” dancers peer down at their wristbands reminded of the children they dance for.
As the sunrise began to peek through the campus, families who have been affected by childhood cancer arrived to tell their story to the dancers who had danced all night long. Eleanor Massa McKinley, a little girl who is 2 years old, suffers from acute myeloid leukemia, but is now in remission. Eleanor’s mom tells their story fighting childhood cancer. "We went to Kosair ‘s on a Tuesday and on a Saturday they told us Eleanor had a rare form of leukemia. Eleanor received four doses of chemotherapy, and it was really hard. She smiled and laughed and watched Mickey Mouse like any one year old does.”
Dancers turn their back to the stage to face the audience of families and children for one last dance. Turning their backs at the end of the song, dancers are faced with the signs showing $150,936.89, which is six times the amount of money raised last year.
A sigh of relief passes over the crowd of dancers as they wearily tread home. But the walk home reminds dancers of the children who never made the trip from the hospital to home. With the support of Raise Red, “we want to offer hope to the kids that traditionally wouldn’t survive,” said Dr. Lucas.