Last week, the Student Alumni Association (SAA) hosted the 6th annual Care-A-Thon, a six- hour event to fundraise for UCI Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit ( NICU). The bulk of the night consisted of a dance-a-thon and performances at the top of every hour by a local dance troupe. There was free food the entire night, photobooths, caricatures, face painting, balloon art (the most popular item being a balloon jetpack) and an area where you could write “get well” cards to the babies in the NICU. The night was filled with people dancing, talking and just having fun to raise awareness and money for the important cause.
Dana Agamalian was pregnant with her children Grant and Alexa 12 years ago. She had never even heard of NICU or had known that there were any complications with her pregnancy until just a few weeks before her delivery. Grant and Alexa were born 28 weeks into the pregnancy — most babies are born after 37-42 weeks. Before Dana even had the chance to hold her children, they were carted off in a special ambulance to UCI’s Medical Center, and Dana was given two Polaroids to hold instead of her babies.
A few days later she was released from Hoag Hospital and rushed to UCI’s Medical Center to see how her children were faring in the NICU. For the next few months Dana and her husband lived out of the DoubleTree nearby. One of them would watch over the children while the other worked, only to switch off at night, neither of them getting very much sleep. As for the kids it was touch and go. They would stop breathing for minutes at a time. They would not eat. Because their hearts had not properly developed, they had to go into heart surgery when they were only 2.5 pounds.
Three and a half months after their birth they were released from the NICU and allowed to go home. Now, the kids are 12 years old and completely healthy and visit the Care-a-Thon every year to remind the participants why what they are doing is so important.
As with Grant and Alexa, most babies in the NICU survive and go on to lead normal lives. However, those first few weeks and months in the NICU are terrifying. Babies can have organs out of their bodies, undeveloped organs, tumors and a variety of other problems that could lead to their untimely death. The Care-a-Thon allows Anteaters a chance to get involved in helping those children, all proceeds of the event going towards the NICU and providing it with expensive and rare equipment.
One such device was the portable brain cooling unit purchased recently with the help of funds from recent Care-a-Thons. The unit allows the Medical Center to safely transport babies either by ambulance or helicopter to their Level III NICU center, providing them and their families with more of a chance than ever before.
This year the Care-a-Thon raised a total of $26,312, the most it has ever fundraised. Arlene Ho, the director of the Care-a-Thon, sought for both student and community participation this year. “This was the first year the event was open to the public,” Ho said. “We definitely saw some parents and kids from the surrounding community come out and participate.”
The Alumni Association also participated in the event, connecting with members of the SAA throughout the year and donating money to the cause.
“It’s not really about the dancing,” said Ho. “It’s about instilling a sense of philanthropy and community on such a young campus and showing students that you can give back no matter your financial situation.”
For students seeking more first-hand knowledge on what their money was going towards, the NICU also offered tours of its facilities.
“We’re all broke college students,” Ho said, “but this is a cause bigger than ourselves. Saving one dollar a day for a month will make more of a difference than you could ever believe.”
Alec Snavely is an electrical engineering and english double major. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org