Chris Hixon received something terrifying on his 6th birthday: A diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer that’s often fatal.
“The chances that I would survive were not in my favor,” Hixon said.
The next 2½ years were a whirlwind of chemotherapy, spinal taps and other procedures at a South Florida children’s hospital. Fortunately, Hixon’s story has a happy ending. He is expected to graduate from the University of Central Florida in May, and in November will celebrate 15 years with his cancer in remission.
UCF student Chris Hixon, who survived childhood cancer, will participate in Knight-Thon to raise money for children’s hospitals.
Next weekend, he’ll be on his feet for 20 straight hours as part of Knight-Thon 2015, the UCF dance marathon that raises money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. It’s the biggest student-run fundraising event at UCF, and this year is bigger than ever, with a bigger venue at the CFE Arena and a bigger goal of raising $500,000.
The money collected is split between two Greater Orlando Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals: Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. Together, those hospitals treat more than 250,000 children a year for ailments like cancer, AIDS, birth defects, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, kidney and heart disease, in addition to accident victims and those in need of organ transplants.
It’s with those “Miracle Children” that Hixon, Knight-Thon’s event operations director, feels a special connection.
“I can relate to them on a different level. I’ve been there – I’ve lived in a hospital, I know what it’s like,” he said. “There were times I was very scared, but because of the caring doctors and all the people by my side, I never felt alone.”
Knight-Thon culminates nearly a year of smaller events and fund-raising by Greek organizations, clubs, offices and departments. More than 1,000 Knights from more than 70 organizations are expected to participate at the dance marathon.
It is Knight-Thon’s 19th year, and it’s grown rapidly over the past several years. In 2011, the event raised $84,640. In 2012, it climbed to $118,972. In 2013, it more than doubled to $258,554, and last year saw another big jump: $392,831.
“We were extremely ambitious with this goal, but I have a lot of confidence in the UCF student body,” student director Drew Strochak said. “The amazing thing about Children’s Miracle Network is that most of the money is raised $1 at a time.”
It’s a long time to remain standing, but participants will get inspiration from Miracle Children and their families who will take the stage to share their personal stories.
“You realize that although your feet may hurt, it’s nothing compared to what these kids go through every single day,” Hixon said.
(And if they raise enough money, participants can earn perks like a pass to sit down for five minutes, a massage or even a shower.)
Hixon knows the money raised will lead to new treatments, and hopefully, cures.
“Until that time comes,” he said, “we’re going to keep dancing.”
Knight-Thon starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 28, and ends at 8 a.m. the next day, at CFE Arena. It includes activities, food, free merchandise and entertainment throughout the day. For more information, visit the event’s website and Facebook page