ANAHEIM – About 15,000 people crowded Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. before dawn Sunday for the 23rd annual CHOC Walk in the Park. The walk raised $1.9 million this year for programs and services at Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle signaled walkers to hit the 5K course, winding through Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney. As dawn broke, the parks were already stirring with Disney characters. Mickey, Minnie, Disney princesses and other characters cheered walkers on, along with Disney employees.
23rd annual CHOC Walk in the Park
Route: Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney District
Distance: 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles
Supports: All programs and services at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, also known as CHOC Children’s
Participants: 15,000 walkers, 800 teams with participants from as far away as Canada, Mexico, Australia and South Korea
Biggest teams: Credit Unions for CHOC-Orange County’s Credit Union (800 people; raised $9,802.03), Disney VoluntEARS (500 people; raised $55,518.00)
Biggest family team: Team Timmaree Rocks (200 people; raised $23,564.50)
Funds: Raised $22.9 million since 1991; $1.9 million in 2013 to date
To donate: chocwalk.org. Participants and donors have until Oct. 31 to make final contributions to this year’s drive.
More information: CHOC Children’s Foundation at 714-532-8690 and chocwalk.net.
Source: CHOC Foundation, CHOC Walk in the Park website
Why do you support CHOC?
“They really care about their patients. My cousin was in there daily when she had a tumor they were investigating. People would check in and constantly ask if we needed anything.”
Vanessa Ramos, 16, Orange
“My son Samuel, 2, was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, sensory issues and delayed motor skills, and is getting surgery this month. I know they are there for me. There was a time during Samuel’s feeding therapy I forgot my wallet for his food, and an employee offered me the money and said I didn’t have to pay her back.”
Jessica Putterman, 38, Orange
“CHOC is like a second home to me and my family. My son Justin, 6, has lissencephaly, which means he is severely disabled and has several seizures a day. The nurses and doctors are very collaborative in making decisions with us on how to care for Justin.”
Tricia Helper, 40, Rancho Cucamonga
Most teams – some as large as 200 people – wore colorful T-shirts and held banners with the name of a child who benefited from CHOC’s services. Some walked in honor of former and current patients. Others walked for patients who died from their illnesses, yet wanted to show appreciation for CHOC’s care.
Jocelyn’s Angels, a group of 14 walking in honor of Jocelyn Ivers, 4, stopped to take photos with the Three Good Fairies of Sleeping Beauty in front of the similar-themed castle. This year, the team raised more than $1,000 for the hospital, which performed open-heart surgery for Jocelyn when she was 2 days old.
“There are no words to express how grateful and appreciative I am,” said Jocelyn’s mother, Denise Ivers, 34, of Fountain Valley. “This is a celebration of life, and the love and care CHOC was able to provide for us.”
John and Chris Mash, both 46, have led Masher Team, about 200 people this year, since the walk began in 1991. Their son, John, died in 2010 at 20 after battling brain cancer.
Chris Mash said she walks to show her gratitude and appreciation for the treatment her son received at CHOC, where he also battled leukemia as a toddler. They raised more than $10,500 this year.
“You don’t know how lucky you are until you have to use a hospital like that,” said Chris Mash of Corona. “You don’t have to go out of state to get latest and greatest. It’s all right here. This is such a huge blessing.”
Many parents said they especially treasured the little things CHOC staff did for their families in times of restlessness.
Cypress resident Dean Hirsch, 11, was diagnosed with lymphoma last year. His mother Susan Hirsh, 44, said one staff member was kind enough to rub her shoulders for a few minutes. She also said the staff let Dean, an avid soccer player, dribble a soccer ball through the halls while he was in chemotherapy at CHOC for about eight months.
“They really reach out to families to help them survive and feel loved,” Susan Hirsch said. “We forever have so many employees in our hearts. We owe so much to them for helping us through such” difficult times.
Last year, Dean did the walk with Team Dean in a wheelchair, had no hair and wore a mask. He has been in remission since January and showed no signs of illness at the walk.
Dean has since returned to his school, St. Hedwig School in Los Alamitos, and the soccer field. About 150 people walked on his team this year, which raised $15,208 for the hospital.
Dean was chosen as this year’s CHOC Walk ambassador, a child chosen each year to share a “story representative of all the other children whose own medical journeys are filled with apprehension, courage and inspiration,” said Zachariah Abrams-Moonitz, director of CHOC Foundation special events and corporate relations.
By 8:30 a.m., walkers were still streaming through the finish line. Charles Decker, 29, participating for the first time, raised $350 with family members and his 4-month-old daughter Lilith as Team Lily Pad.
After Lilith was born in June, doctors could not properly diagnose why her bowels did not work properly. She was admitted into CHOC the next day, where she was diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s disease, which is a blockage in the large intestine due to a lack of muscle movement in the bowel.
She went through surgery and continues to receive regular checkups at CHOC.
“As soon as she got to CHOC, they were giving her round-the-clock care to figure out what was wrong,” Decker said. “It was comforting and reassuring.”
The CHOC Walk began in 1991 in Santa Ana. Around 1,400 walkers participated that year. Twelve years ago, the event moved inside Disneyland. Disney’s involvement dates to the 1960s.