The largest student-run organization at USC, Dance Marathon is known for spreading its message with bright colors and loud music. But for third-year public health student Sara Svendsen, it’s a chance to reflect and share as a former miracle child who remembers a time when she was unable to dance.
“I’d lost a lot of muscle mass, and pretty much all the functioning in my hands," Svendsen said. "I couldn’t walk.”
Svendsen was left in that state after spending 26 days in the Chicago Children’s Network Miracle Hospital. Less than a month before, she was a freshman in high school who left school early thinking she had the flu. When she developed joint pain and had difficulty breathing, she was placed in the pediatric intensive care unit.
“They went in for the bronchoscopy and they found that my lungs were filled with 95 percent blood, which is why I couldn’t breathe," Svendsen said. "I was basically drowning in my own blood, as gross as that sounds.”
After about a week, she flatlined and then was placed in a coma for two and a half weeks.
“My parents were in the hallway just watching me almost die, basically,” Svendsen said.
After she woke up, she continued to recover and regain mobility through occupational and physical therapy.
“I’m so lucky to have been where I was, and I’m so grateful that I was able to be in a Children’s Miracle Network hospital with the best doctors and nurses and all these opportunities,” Svendsen said.
Now, she’s one of more than 150 USCDM members. Svendsen works specifically with morale by sharing stories, fundraising money and spreading awareness for the Child Life Program at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital.
This year's main event saw more participants register than ever before, according to Vice President of Public Relations Kaity Lynch, a third-year visual communications and marketing student. They’ve focused on branching out and reaching a greater variety of students beyond Greek life.
Dance Marathon is “always trying to get new student organizations, residence halls involved and freshmen involved,” Lynch said, “people that aren’t necessarily involved in anything yet, because we want them to be able to find their home in Dance Marathon.”
USCDM raised $703, 289 this year, surpassing the $527,810 it raised last year. The goal of $700,00 was set in October — $500,000 to run the Child Life Program and the rest to build a playground.
The Child Life Program works toward making patients more comfortable in the hospital with things like birthday parties and flavored anesthesia.
“I think it’s the coolest thing ever, honestly, because anybody can have a sick kid in their life … and even if you don’t know, no kid deserves to go through that being scared,” Svendsen said.