It was a day flowing with emotion, inspiration and generosity Thursday at Radiothon 2013. The sixth annual fundraiser for All Children's Hospital kicked off with a blend of powerful voices on US 103.5 FM - patients, parents, hospital staff, a former football great and, of course, the familiar country music radio hosts who have helped make the two-day event a fixture on the local airwaves every December.
Here's a look at how Day One unfolded.
Getting the Show Rolling
5:50 a.m.: The second-floor Children's Auditorium has been stirring to life in a pre-dawn flurry of activity. The phone banks are set and a half-dozen All Children's directors and vice presidents have arrived early to man the first wave of calls when the show goes live. Speech and Hearing Director Therese Montanari gets set to take a seat with Director of Physical Therapy Maggie Reilly, part of a group of ACH leaders who have helped usher in Radiothon every year. "This never gets old," she says. "There's a real feeling of excitement before everything gets going." Minutes later, Director of Strategic Services Steve Dunn joins 103.5 host Catfish at the interview table to officially kick off the festivities. "We're approaching four years in the new facility - Jan. 10, 2010," Dunn says. "On any given day, there are 200 kids who are here as in-patients, and if you add up all the days with those 8,000 kids who are here, they're here 70,000 days. And in a year, there are probably half-a-million outpatient visits."
Catfish: "It's Amazing"
6:20: During a commercial break, Catfish gets up from his seat at the mic, grabs a cup of coffee and surveys the room. "This is my fifth year and we always look forward to it - it's amazing, our U.S. 103.5 family, our listeners, they get behind this every year," he says. "A lot of them tell us, 'We've had to use the hospital' and it's just so incredible to have this type of hospital available in our back yard."
"A Determination to Serve Goodness"
6:45: Catherine Fink, Director of Communications for the All Children's Foundation, sits down with Catfish and offers a thought that captures the spirit of the event: "It really is about giving. Everyone comes together with a determination to serve goodness." Soon after, Vice President of Human Resources Jay Kuhns relates a story that underscores the bond the community feels with All Children's: "I was at an event in Pasco County last night and a gentlemen came up to me, and we were being introduced for the first time. He asked me where I worked and I told him All Children's Hospital. And he said, 'You saved my son.' Now, I didn't save his son. But when you're a part of our organization, everyone contributes in some sort of way. And to have someone say those words to you - you don't get that kind of feedback in a normal job. It's just so powerful and so moving and you feel so connected to what we do here. That's really the reason people should give. We literally are saving kids every day."
A Baby With Heart
7:10: Five-month-old Coltin Witt wins the hearts of everyone in the room when parents Stacey Simonds and Bill Witt tell the story of how their baby's heart was fixed in miraculous fashion this fall. Coltin had appeared to be a normal, healthy baby for the first two-and-a-half months of his life. But a sudden drop in his appetite, coupled with erratic breathing, prompted his parents to bring him to an area hospital. That's when their lives changed: an X-ray revealed that little Coltin had an enlarged heart. In a blur, he was being transported by helicopter to All Children's while Stacey and Bill raced to the hospital from Brandon. "Your heart just drops," Bill tells Catfish. "I had three kids prior to Coltin and I never went through anything like this. I wouldn't wish this on anybody. But now he's a totally different kid - and it's all because of what they did for him here." Stacey talks about all the questions she bombarded Dr. James Quintessenza with after they arrived, learning that Coltin would need to have his tiny heart repaired with reconstructive surgery - one that came with a 70 percent success rate but no guarantees. "Poor Dr. Q," she says with a smile. Moments later, however, she chokes up reflecting on the amazing medical teams that worked on Coltin and has given a bright prospect for the future. "They saved my baby," she says, voice quavering. Her eyes fill with tears - as do the eyes of so many over the story of the smiling baby and the hospital that gave him a new chance at life.
The Vital Role of Rehab
7:35: Maggie Reilly takes time away from the phones to visit with Catfish and is still thinking about Coltin as she speaks. "I'm glad the phone didn't ring because I was crying," she says. Catfish can't get Coltin's story off his mind, either. "To go in there and open up a baby's chest at that age - how do you do that? How does that happen? But when it does happen, you see miracles. And you have to thank God that this place is here." Reilly, now in her 13th year at All Children's, then explains the vital role rehab plays in the process. "We're in a new building on our campus here and have great facilities, but more than that we have a great staff," she says. "We're growing and that's a good thing for the families and the kids in the community."
The Mission: Lead the Nation In Safety and Quality
7:55 a.m.: Dr. Brigitta Mueller, Vice President of Medical Affairs and ACH's Chief Safety Officer, brings another perspective to the morning mix. She emphasizes the many steps and innovations in place to ensure the safety of patients today. Dr. Mueller came to All Children's in September from Texas Children's, the nation's largest free-standing children's hospital. "I really came because of All Children's Hospital - it's such a wonderful hospital," she says. "And what attracted me specifically is that I'm interested in patient quality and safety. And All Children's makes that the biggest goal for the hospital - to give the safest, best quality care possible. And we have this connection with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. They are leaders in the field. And we are now becoming a part of that as well. We really want to become the leaders in pediatric quality and safety for the nation."
Dr. Ellen: Elevating Our Game
8:10 a.m.: All Children's President and Physician in Chief Jonathan Ellen, M.D., is up next with Catfish and picks up where Dr. Mueller left off. "I think over the last year and a half, we've really rededicated ourselves to making sure that every child and every family get the best health care they can and that we need to lead the region in that. It doesn't mean we provide care to every child but we make sure every child has access to the best care possible. And what's really amazing me is how the front-line staff here and our leaders are all embracing that concept of elevating our game - developing the new residency program; our focus on quality and patient safety and leading the region in that. No child should come in the hospital and get sicker because they're in the hospital. That's our commitment to them and our commitment to our families - that the hospital is the safest place that they can come to. That takes energy. It takes a culture. It takes enthusiasm. It takes love. And I would say that's what's really going on here."
Sports Talk: Iron Mike and Dr. Mularoni
8:15 a.m.: A familiar face at All Children's, Tampa Bay Buccaneer great Mike Alstott, explains why he has made the hospital a part of his life and outreach for the past 15 years. "As a Foundation, we come around here three, four or five times a year, and it really humbles you," says the former star running back. "What this hospital does for our young generation - the caring and all the love that they give - you really leave the hospital saying, 'thank you.' Just being a hospital for so many years and knowing the people, it's a great place." Alstott makes his customary offer to listeners to match their pledges for 15 minutes. And he stays for a second on-air segment, joined by pediatric emergency and sports medicine physician Patrick Mularoni. "We started a sports medicine program here about a year-and-a-half ago, and one of the things we found is that the community needed advocates out there for our young athletes - especially for the concussion care," Dr. Mularoni explains. "It's not just for concussions we're seeing in football but for a lot of different sports. We're involved in the management of that and, with Johns Hopkins, the research to try and figure out how we can make it better for the youth of America who are playing sports."
A Mom and her Miracle Girl
9:30 a.m.: Tampa Bay Times writer and editor Kelley Benham shares a tale that many thousands in the area and beyond came to know last year through her national prize-winning reported newspaper memoir - the gripping story of daughter Juniper, born prematurely to her and husband/former Times writer Tom French at only 23 weeks and weighing one pound, four ounces. "She was the size of a Barbie doll," Benham tells Catfish. "It's like being dropped into an alien space world. The babies don't look like babies. ... When we first saw her, she was in a plastic box hooked up to all these machines. She had a ventilator breathing for her. Her eyes were fused shut like a puppy. And her skin was translucent. You could see her heart beating inside her chest. And it was terrifying." Benham relates more details of the harrowing experience she and her husband lived as their daughter clung to life, against the odds. But the fear and uncertainty was always tempered by the loving care that blanketed them throughout their ordeal. "The nurses don't just take care of the patients who are so fragile - they also take care of the very fragile parents. They really taught us how to be parents in a very artificial environment."
Two Case Studies Of Hope and Caring
9:50 a.m.: 103.5 deejay Norm takes the host's chair from Catfish and several "walk-ons" join the roll call of pre-planned guests - parents with powerful testimony about the care their children received at All Children's. First comes Lauren, whose 14-month-old son Brandon has grappled with numerous issues: everything from a brain bleed to a hole in his heart to myriad allergies. Brandon spent 45 days at ACH, went home, but was airlifted back to the hospital for more emergency treatment. "Basically, he's only spent about five months of his 14 at home so far," she says. "But he's a fighter. He wasn't supposed to survive past two months old, and here we are 12 months later and that's because of this hospital bringing as far as they did." Lauren is followed by another grateful mom, Shannon. She brings along 28-month-old son Henry, who has been receiving therapy for serious speech issues. "I came here and didn't know what to expect," she says. "I was nervous. I was anxious. I was really concerned and frustrated." Her feelings intensified when the evaluation revealed Henry was significantly delayed with his speech and vocabulary. But Henry has made excellent progress in the speech and hearing program. "He's doing great," Shannon says. "He's progressed so much. I've heard moms say today that All Children's saved their child's life. Our situation isn't the same as that. But this place has still had a tremendous impact on our life, because he's starting to communicate and couldn't before. I can cry thinking about it."
Making "Emotional Miracles" Through Speech and Hearing
10:40 a.m.: Therese Montanari is the perfect person to follow Shannon and Henry as the head of the speech and hearing program. She describes the cutting-edge work being done with a special segment of children. "We have a large speech department as I said, and a large percentage of our population that comes in for speech are children with Autism and Asperger's. We've always treated those children in individual therapy and worked on their vocabulary - worked on their communication. But an area that we missed for a while was doing social groups. So started teaching children who have a high level of Autism and Asperger's how to interact with others." The work helps these children in profound ways, just as the wide range of speech and hearing therapy offered at All Children's does. Before leaving Montanari thinks about the progress Henry has made. "These are emotional miracles that we make," she says. "For families to see their children not have friends - or see their child not be able to communicate - is very, very hard. So when you get passed that, those parents will say we 'saved' their child's life in some respect."
11:10 a.m.: Kaycee started the day expecting to be at work - not taking part in the Radiothon. But everything changed in an instant when her 5-month-old son, Alfred - suffering both from Spina Bifida and a serious heart abnormality - went into distress inside his All Children's crib. His heart rate plummeted and he began to turn blue before being stabilized - once again fighting back against the odds that have been stacked against him since birth. He's the first case of a child at All Children's both with Spina Bifida (leaving him paralyzed from the waist down) and a hypoplastic left heart (basically, only half of his heart functions). Since Day 4 of his life, he's had 12 surgeries up until last week. He now weighs eight pounds and will have another surgery when he reaches 11 pounds. But sadly, he may not be a heart transplant candidate due to the Spina Bifida. "If think you're having a bad day ladies and gentlemen, you're not," says Norm, choking up. There are no answers for Alfred, no guarantees. "It's rough, it really is," Kaycee says quietly, wearing a Team Alfred T-shirt. But she takes solace in her baby's determination and the dedication and skill of the team caring for him. "He's our fighter," she says. "We won't give up ... and neither will he."
A Big Catch with a Bucs QB - courtesy of Curry Ford
11:30 a.m.: Bill Curry Ford has been a major supporter of All Children's over the years (giving more than $73,000) and the tradition is alive and well on the 103.5 airwaves this morning. Dealership vice president Jennifer Curry (Bill's daughter) and general manager Tim Joslin swing by to make an enticing offer for callers - the chance to win one of two fishing trips with standout Tampa Bay Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon by pledging to become a "Monthly Miracle Maker" for $15 per month. "We love All Children's," says Jennifer. "We know what they do for the children." That includes Jennifer's 7-year-old cousin who has been helped immensely with a genetic problem. In keeping with their stalwart support, she and Joslin then deliver a welcome gift: a check for $5,000, as the room erupts with cheers and applause.
Depth of Gratitude
12:30 p.m.: Talk about gratitude. Jackie Romero feels it deeply toward All Children's, following the successful heart transplant her 14-month-old son Isaiah underwent in October. She appeared on the 2012 Radiothon when Isaiah was only 55 days old. Now the Walmart associate is back, taking time out as a phone volunteer to describe the lengths she will go to sing the hospital's praises. "I will do anything," she says. "I don't care if I have to dress foolishly, have to stand in the sun, get screamed at by random customers." Jacqueline tells listeners that instead of spending money on Air Jordans or iPhones, they should consider giving some of their money to All Children's: "Why not help children in need instead?"
Working the Crowd
1:10 p.m.: The early afternoon gets off to an excellent start with a $4,000 check presented by longtime Tampa night club, the Dallas Bull. And the momentum continues thanks a charming and talkative 5-year-old guest named Aiden Larrabee. Aiden underwent successful heart surgery when he was three months old, and his parents appeared on the inaugural Radiothon to talk about it. Unfortunately, Aiden's 3-year-old brother, Logan, is now a cancer patient at All Children's getting treatment for Neuroblastoma. While Logan remains in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Aiden arrives with mother Robin and promptly shows he has a bright future in broadcasting. When Norm asks him what he liked to do most, Aiden blurts into the mic, "Play video games!" When asked which ones, he proclaims, "All of them!" And before signing off, he has one more key point to make: "I like to play video games at home and they're called SpongeBob Squared, Lego Harry Potter and Super Hero Squad!" Norm greets the news with an "Awesome!" as the crowd roars with laughter.
1:30 p.m.: Jessica Craig, 20, has faced more than her share of obstacles in life. At 12, she was diagnosed with Juvenile Dermatomyotis - an autoimmune disease that causes her body to deteriorate. But she manages the incurable disease with monthly IVs - and manages to maintain an upbeat attitude that captivated the packed crowd in the auditorium. "I was scared when I first came here - I had no idea what was going to happen," she explains. "But the nurses are really nice and everybody is awesome." Jessica has grown so fond of All Children's that she intends to volunteer at the hospital now that she's on the verge of "aging out" as a patient. Her favorite memory as a patient: the Homecoming Dance this October organized by Child Life. "I walked in there knowing absolutely no one, and I met three awesome kids and we danced the entire night together," she recalls. "It was like a real prom, except you basically knew nobody at first - and then you went inside and you got to know everybody."
On A Roll
2:10 p.m.: The good vibes continue as Steve Hurley of Stingray Chevrolet in Plant City - a longtime supporter of All Children's - donates $5,000 and urges other businesses in the bay area to step up. Meanwhile, radio and TV personality Jenny Dean steps in - joining afternoon host Travis Daily. Dean was an integral part of the first four Radiothons while with 103.5 and now works at WFLA-970. "Maybe you're thinking of the 20 things you have to do this afternoon, and how you're going to get dinner done, but I want you to just stop for a moment while you're waiting and call 1-800-270-8642 - because once you do this, you're going to feel so much better." A half-hour later, things get better indeed. Hurley has come back on air to share some news with Daily and Dean. One of his friends, Mike Stone of A Stepping Stone Air of Plant City, has heard Hurley's challenge on air and called in his own matching pledge of $5,000.
Rocking Through the Years
2:45 p.m.: Nancy Shannon has seen All Children's from a unique perspective through the decades, cuddling, rocking and soothing babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Her first experience with the hospital came 28 years earlier when her grandson, Sam, was born prematurely. Nancy promised that after Sam left the NICU, she would become a volunteer. Today, her grandson has grown into a successful businessman and she's still rocking babies in the NICU - a department in which her daughter, Jane, works as a nurse practitioner. "I will be in a mall or restaurant and there will be a parent who'll come up to me and say, 'Look at my little Millie, look at my Marina, and I'll say, 'Oh my gosh, this is wonderful!' " she says. "These little girls are going to dancing schools and this or that. And you remember them when they had the translucent skin and all the tubes in them. It's wonderful to see that part of it."
Investing in the Kids
3:30 p.m.: Volunteer Coordinator Ranetta Sumner joins the proceedings to explain how Medical Explorers works at All Children's. The program began at the hospital in 1999, designed for area high school students interesting in pursuing a medical career. "They come in during the school year, twice a month, to hear speakers," Sumner explains. " Hospital staff, doctors and administrators throughout the campus come and talk about what they do and what the educational requirements are." For some, the program has served as a stepping stone into the medical field. "We're very fortunate to have many of our Medical Explorers come back and be employees at All Children's. So we're investing into the Medical Explorers and we're so proud of them." Fit4AllKids Coordinator Kellie Gilmore arrives next to talk about the ACH program that educates kids and families about good nutrition. Gilmore reads from a letter she received from a mother about how the program has enhanced communication with her daughter: "Before we got into this program, our communication was very limited and she wouldn't open up to me. I'm introducing fruits and vegetables to her and she's making better selections at school and home."
4 p.m.: As the first leg of Radiothon begins to wind down, Paula Keyser of ACH's Early Steps Program makes an appearance to talk about 12-year-old Jeremy. An outgoing presence on past Radiothons and Telethons, Jeremy has decided to sit this guest spot out with some last-second jitters. But his mom starts off sharing some very good news about her son, who suffered a brain bleed when he was born and has dealt with Hydrocephalus, Cerebral Palsy on his right side and Epilepsy. He has been seizure free for 573 days. As she reveals that encouraging news, Jeremy walks up with his father, Mark. The jitters are gone and he's back in rare form. "I must say, it's just like being home here at All Children's hospital," he says with a flourish. Like an old pro, the new middle schooler banters and jokes with Daily and Dean, triggering waves of laughter when he notes he has a sizable fan club in the room and uses a puppet named Dr. Moody to help talk up donations. "One more thing," he states. "I don't hear the telephone!" he remarks. Just then, the phone rings. Mission accomplished.
A Hawk Flying High
5:45 p.m.: Aiden Hawk's challenging journey began at birth with a complex, life-threatening duct and gall bladder condition called biliary atresia. Then came a liver transplant in Atlanta at just eight months of age, followed by severe problems that prompted a move to Cincinnati for treatment stemming from post-transplant medications. But it was at All Children's that everything changed. Without the dedicated and cutting-edge care he received through the years, Aiden's prospects of growing up were bleak. But with the help of a new drug he has been taking for the past year, thanks to a doctor from All Children's, the road has taken a remarkable turn for the better. He's back to playing sports and recently danced up a storm with his pals at the ACH Homecoming Dance. "I just feel this incredible gratitude that we've had this hospital so close, and that it's been able to treat him for the rare condition he was born with," says mother Lisa. "There's this amazing staff and everybody who's cared for him for so long - even in the cafeteria they know him and love him. It's like a family."