Bless our hearts as Edmund Burke quoted: The only thing necessary for the triump of evil is for good men(and women) to...

Miss America visits ECU to raise money for children's hospital

1 of 5

Piper Wilhide, 5, poses with Miss America, Nia Franklin, during Piratethon at East Carolina University.


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Miss America got her groove on Sunday afternoon to help raise money for Children’s Miracle Network during the first-ever Piratethon dance marathon at East Carolina University. 

Piratethon is a Children's Miracle Network Organization that raises money throughout the school year to benefit Vidant Medical Center’s James and Connie Maynard Children's Hospital.

Along with a six-hour dance marathon, Sunday’s event featured games and other activities for children.

Nia Franklin, a 2015 ECU alumna who was crowned Miss America in September, said she was happy to come back home and champion such a great cause, especially, since more than 10 million youth enter a children’s hospital in North America every year, according to Children’s Miracle Network.

“I’m just so proud of the students for putting this on and it shows they really care about the community they are a part of and the kids in this community,” Franklin said. “ It’s important for me to be here as the national ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.” 

Since 1983, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals have helped fill those funding gaps for children’s hospitals by raising more than $5 billion, most of it $1 at a time through Miracle Balloon icon campaigns. Its various fundraising partners and programs support the nonprofit’s mission to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible.

“You should support your local CMN hospitals,” Franklin said. “All the money that is raised in the local areas stays local. When you are giving, you are pouring into your community.”

Miss North Carolina, Laura Matrazzo also attended the event.    

“I love visiting Greenville because I know that James and Connie Maynard set up one of the most innovative and wonderful children’s hospitals in the state,” Matrazzo said. It’s super exciting to be amongst a bunch of people who understand how important children’s causes are.  

“This is the culmination of Children Miracle Network Hospitals Week,” Mattrazo said. “All week we’ve been super excited, not only to raise funds but to raise awareness for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in North Carolina.”

For the parents of children who have had their lives affected by the Children’s Miracle Network, the event was all the more special. 

Haleigh Wilhide’s second-born daughter, Piper Wilhide, now 5 years old, was diagnosed with stage-three neuroblastoma, a deadly childhood cancer, when she was four weeks old.  

“Doctors found a mass behind her heart,” Haleigh Wilhide said  “They did some imaging and scans and it was obviously devastating.”

Piper underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and two major surgeries. Haleigh Wilhide said that in addition to her faith, she and her family are forever grateful to Vidant Health and the Children’s Miracle Network for saving their daughter’s life.  

“Every time we can showcase her doctors and this hospital and what they ultimately did to save our child’s life, you can’t top that,” Haleigh Wilhide said.  

“Piper is doing awesome, she is thriving,” Haleigh Wilhide said. “It’s just a humbling experience.  It’s just very emotional too.  Ultimately, we’re a cancer family and we have a cancer survivor daughter and we’re thankful that the youth, ECU and CMN are here in our backyard.”

In addition to dancing for the Children’s Miracle Network, Franklin posed with several of the ‘Miracle Kids’ who, thanks to the Children’s Miracle Network, survived their bout with cancer and other diseases.  

Eight-year-old Thor Keith Forte grinned from ear to ear as he stood beside Franklin and his mom and dad.  

“Thor was born with sickle-cell anemia and once we found out the Children’s Miracle Network came along, Thor’s father, Rodney Forte said. “When Thor was born, he had a sickle cell crisis. His blood cells jammed up in his veins and caused him extreme pain. With that happening, we came up to the children’s hospital.”

Rodney Forte who lives in Havelock, said that the James and Connie Maynard Hospital in Greenville is top-notch and paid special attention to his son to make sure that his experience was as painless and stress-free as possible.  

“Once I got here, (doctors) already had Thor set up in a room. He was calm and wasn’t crying,” Forte said. “Just the atmosphere was so peaceful when I got here. The room was all laid out. Everything was so serene.

“Most sickle cell patients lose their spleens by the time they’re five,” he said. “Thor still has his spleen. He is doing fantastic and all of that is do to the Children’s Miracle Network as well as Vidant’s children’s hospital.”

Event organizers Sneha Amaresh and Tara Martin, who are sophomores at ECU, said Sunday’s event was all about celebrating the success stories of children who defied many odds while also remembering those who died bravely fighting their illnesses.  

“Today we’re just honoring all of the miracle children we have this year and their stories and we’re dancing for the kids who can’t,” Amaresh said. “We think it is really important. Supporting this cause is really beneficial because we are really making differences in so many children’s lives.” 

“We’re fundraising all day long trying to raise awareness to our school and our local community about what the Children’s Miracle Network is and the good things they do for the kids and the hospital,” Martin said.

Mattrazo said that the Miss America Organization is a big supporter of children’s causes, especially Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals changes the lives of kids every minute,” she said. “I think it’s really important to reach beyond the crown and the stash and make an impact on the lives of children.”

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.