Gracyn DenBesten has been enjoying all of the new experiences that come with being a freshman at UF, and she is looking forward to being a Dancer the most. The Miracle Children that Dance Marathon supports hold a special place in her heart because she remembers being one herself. Her experiences at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital motivate her to help kids who are fighting now and in the future.
“When I was eight years old, I developed Viral Myocarditis, a cold that attacked my heart and caused me to need a heart transplant. I was airlifted to Shands where I had a ten-hour surgery that put me on the Berlin Heart for over four months. When I think about moments that redefined and changed my life the most, I think about living in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. It gave me a new perspective for the blessing of life itself. I remember being in my room, and a patient would come to stay in the room next to me. Sometimes their room was cleared and they were gone that very next day because they had passed. It was a constant reminder for me to never take things for granted. My time in the hospital was so much waiting – for a new heart, to get better, to go home. Living through this was a reminder to take each day one step at a time. Even if it was a terrible quality of life where I was constantly being attached to a machine, taking pills, getting shots, and throwing up — I learned to never take it for granted.”
The experiences Gracyn endured are her driving force for making a difference in the lives of others. Her strongest passion in life is fighting for people and sharing her story with them.
“I want to instill hope in others through my life story. I want to tell them that they can go through hard times and come out stronger than before. My dream is to work with hospitals and children. I want to speak on behalf of organizations and hospitals to strengthen their abilities so they may touch more people and change more lives.”
Gracyn wants to do as much as she can to fully appreciate her second chance at life. She gives all of the new heart she was given to others.
“It is a very special opportunity for me to be a Dancer because I will have been on both sides. I know what Miracle Children go through. I went through it myself. It is a beautiful representation of the power we have as Dancers – what we are able to give. Dancing for me is thanking Dance Marathon for all that they did for me and supporting the children who are currently going through the unimaginably hard times that I experienced.”
Owen Maier, a Miracle Child, was born with transposition of the great arteries, a heart condition his parents didn’t know he had until he was born. The pulmonary artery and aorta were formed incorrectly on the wrong side.
“You have a vision of how your baby is supposed to be born, especially with your first child being healthy, and suddenly they’re taking him away.”
Owen had open heart surgery when he was 2 weeks old. After 2 months at UF Health Shands, Owen went home for first time. He is almost 5 years old, hasn’t been inpatient since newborn, and now is monitored monthly.
“We became involved with DM when Owen was just over a year old, and the first year, we weren’t much of a part of anything. We really just showed up at the event. The second year, we learned more about what was going on. But last year, the true defining moment for me, as a mom of a child who has been sick—you guys always tell us how much we inspire you, but you don’t know how much you inspire us. You guys…are teaching my children philanthropy. I’ve always had that inside of me, that wanting to help others. I want to help in any way I can to help others. DM is showing my kids what life is all about—in my opinion, why I think we’re here. I am so in awe. You collect one penny at a time to this amazing organization that represents lives saved. Without what you guys have done, my son might not have had access to the equipment and the processes that saved his life. A friend has a daughter who just started at UF and was talking to me about how she can be involved, and I told him she had to be involved in DM. I said it’s a movement! If you don’t know about it, you should!”
“Our second year with DM, our FR captain was Jake, and with him, I became okay to let go and let people play with my kids. I felt that I could walk away for a second. We’re able to trust you guys with our most prized possessions—our children. I can have that relaxing moment, because to be honest, we never really get those moments. Our kids look forward to it. When I tell my kids we’re doing something with DM, they literally jump up and down. All I have to say is ‘DM’, and they’re ready to get in the car.”
– Rachel Banks
February is the month of love and we asked students, parents, and Miracle Children what they love about Dance Marathon. Here are some of their responses.
“I love Dance Marathon because it brought me closer to other people who share the same passion I do.”
“I love this cause because it helps families like mine.”
“I love DM at UF because I get to help children and their families.”
“I love Dance Marathon because I get to hang out with great people, including the Miracle Families.”
“I love DM because it allows me to bring awareness to such an important cause.”
“I love Dance Marathon at the University of Florida because it is my family.”
“I love DM because we play fun games.”
“I love Dance Marathon because it helps me and kids like me get better.”