Dance Marathon is personal for Amy Hecht, Florida State University’s vice president for student affairs.
In 2019, her newborn daughter, Izzy Macchio, was diagnosed with a heart defect. The family spent three weeks at UF Health’s Shands Children’s Hospital while Izzy underwent two cardiac catheterization procedures. Four months later, Izzy’s big sister, 4-year-old Josie Macchio, was diagnosed with leukemia. Over the next two years, “she had lots of chemotherapy,” Hecht shared. “Today, at 4 and 8 years old, they’re doing great.”
Hecht was one of the speakers at Monday’s check presentation at FSU’s College of Medicine, where Dance Marathon, UF Health and the Children’s Miracle Network presented a check for $598,451 to the college for local pediatric outreach programs. The amount represents almost half the $1.3 million raised by Dance Marathon at FSU (DM-FSU) earlier this year.
“I cannot thank you enough for all you do for the kids,” Hecht said, echoing the trademark phrase “For the Kids” adopted by FSU’s largest student-run philanthropy.
Also present for the ceremony hosted by Interim Dean Dr. Alma Littles were DM-FSU’s executive board and its faculty adviser, Emily Porter; several visitors from UF Health and the Children’s Miracle Network; Dr. Myeshia Carroll, College of Medicine faculty and a nurse practitioner at the Gadsden County Schools’ clinics; and representatives of several of the college’s outreach partners throughout the Big Bend.
The Gadsden County Schools Clinics is the largest recipient of the DM-FSU funding. The school-based primary care health clinics are at five schools, and they are not your usual school clinic, the dean said in her welcoming remarks.
“It’s a genuine lifeline, because it’s the only access to health care that a lot of these kids have,” said Littles, who grew up and practiced family medicine in Gadsden County before joining the College of Medicine faculty when the school was created.
The clinics serve pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students. The services include providing mandatory physical examinations for new students and annual sports physicals for student athletes. Many families could not afford the physicals if they had to pay for them.
First- and second-year medical students assist at the clinic.
The college’s FSU Primary Health Clinic in southwest Tallahassee also receives DM-FSU funds.
“So many children in that area are medically underserved and health care needs are so great,” Littles said. “With the help of Dance Marathon funding, we are able to support clinicians dedicated to the well-being of children and families.”
Licensed clinical social worker Cori McGooden and pediatrician Ramiz Kseri foster a team approach in working with kids and their families, especially those at nearby Sabal Palm Elementary School, the college’s Community Partnership School.
Dr. Rashmin Savani, chair of the UF College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief for Shands Children’s Hospital, talked about the ripple effects Dance Marathon creates, particularly in developing new treatments.
He said Shands and UF Health developed a new treatment for previously untreatable brain tumors that is heading into clinical trials at Shands and other locations. The immunotherapy regimen calls for an antigen to be injected into the brain that allows the immune system to recognize previously unrecognizable cancer cells and target them, while leaving surrounding healthy cells alone.
Savani also praised the six middle and high schools in the county that together raised more than $400,000 for DM-FSU.
“We experience the joy of watching all these young people work to make the world a better place for other people,” he said.
Abbie Hynes, executive director of DM-FSU, said there are plans to expand middle and high school student involvement, so students are immersed in Dance Marathon by the time they get to college.
“It is the people in this room who make these miracles come to life,” she said.
Partner agencies who also received DM-FSU funding in 2022 through the College of Medicine had representatives there to explain how their programs use those funds:
- Bond Community Health Center secured federal funding to develop a dental center in the same neighborhood as FSU Primary Health, providing the first dental care to many kids.
- The Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Medical Music Therapy Program provides a full-time music therapist for premature infants in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit.
- FSU’s Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy’s Early Head Start program in Gadsden County provides children with transportation to medical appointments, health screening and health care coordination and a nurse educator for pregnant and parenting teens throughout the Big Bend.
- The Hang Tough Foundation engages and supports families throughout the Big Bend during their journeys through childhood illness and special needs.
- Big Bend Hospice provides grief counseling to children and youth who have lost a loved one in an eight-county region.
Dena Strickland, president of the Big Bend Foundation, sought out Vice President Hecht as the ceremony segued into the dean’s ice cream social.
“Thank you for sharing your story,” Strickland said. “You touched my heart.”