Recovered Riley kid gives back with IUPUI Jagathon

February 28, 2017

Baby Rosie Tarlton in the NICU at Riley. | PHOTO COURTESY ROSIE TARLTON

Some people can just dance. They waltz, cha-cha and two-step no matter what musical curveballs the band throws at them; it just makes sense. Rosie Tarlton may not always hear the music, but the steps she has taken in life have still made sense, and they always lead her to Riley, Jagathon and IUPUI.

Born an hour north of Indianapolis in Lapel, Indiana, the now-sophomore was immediately rushed to Riley Hospital for Children after delivery, where she was diagnosed with a trio of heart conditions -- patent ductus arteriosus, supraventricular tachycardia and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome -- and spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit. Weeks of treatment left the infant healthy enough to go home, but not without a few unexpected challenges.

"Before any baby leaves the NICU, they have to have a hearing test," Tarlton explained. "Of course, medications, loud noises, stress levels, everything can affect your hearing as a baby. I took the hearing test, and it showed that I had major hearing loss."

Tarlton returned to Riley Hospital throughout the next three years, being treated for her heart conditions and her hearing. She's now cured of any heart complications but still faces moderate-to-severe hearing loss and uses hearing aids.

Her story could have ended there. She could have thanked the staff at Riley and proceeded through life like any other teenager. But in 2015, Tarlton had the opportunity to become a Riley Champion Presented by Kroger, an ambassador for the hospital, showcasing its success and its impact on children's lives throughout Indiana.

Jagathon staff members Ali Emswiller, left, and Rosie Tarlton pose together at the 2016 Jagathon. | PHOTO COURTESY ROSIE TARLTON

Eight Riley Champions are chosen each year; only one is selected to be sponsored by Kroger.

"From there, I just kept going on all the opportunities I was given," she said. "As a Riley Champion, I went around and shared my story, whether at big corporate events or dance marathons or little events and schools. Anything that they asked, I would do. I went around sharing my story, sharing my passion and encouraging others to donate, sponsor or give back to Riley."

Tarlton was later selected as a 2015 Miracle Child for Speedway gas stations, representing Children's Miracle Network Hospitals nationwide. With her photo displayed at the company's stations and an appearance in a Speedway television commercial, Tarlton was able to contribute directly to the hospital that helped save her life as a newborn. And she was hooked.

"As a Riley Champion in 2015, I was senior in high school, and I got invited to Jagathon. Immediately when I came to Jagathon, I absolutely fell in love. It was actually my first dance marathon that I had ever been to, so it was a new experience altogether. Every student I came in contact with was amazing."

The dance marathon left a lasting impression, as did IUPUI's philanthropic studies and American Sign Language programs. "It just really felt like home," Tarlton said. "Being that much closer to the hospital, it just made it that much more real. You can see the impact right here on your campus. I knew what Jagathon was prior to coming here. But I decided on IUPUI for school because of Jagathon, because of Riley and because of the major I wanted to do."

Now in just her second year as a Jaguar, Tarlton has already logged more impactful service than many students do in a lifetime. As a freshman, she served on the Jagathon family relations committee. It's a role she filled well, given her own time as a Riley kid. She knows firsthand what it's like to walk in those shoes.

But having already worked so closely with families in her role as a Riley Champion, Tarlton felt like something was missing. So as a sophomore, she is now the director of outreach events for the campus's largest student-run organization.

"I wanted to step up in the organization. I knew they needed people to step up because we were growing," she said of her transition. "I work with student organizations on campus to help them start up events or maintain events they've done in previous years for Jagathon. I work with fraternities, sororities, different clubs and other groups on campus if they want to partner with Jagathon and help support us."

Rosie Tarlton poses with a Riley kid at 2016's Jagathon. | PHOTOS COURTESY ROSIE TARLTON

Tarlton's role has become increasingly important as Jagathon grows by leaps and bounds. In 2015, Jagathon involved 660 students and raised just over $100,000, its first time breaking six digits. Last spring, those totals jumped to 956 participants and more than $140,000. That means that in just three short years, Jagathon's donations totals increased by nearly $90,000.

The final count for 2017 won't be released until this weekend's dance marathon, but those numbers are also expected to be higher than ever. During Celebration of Miracles, a one-day fundraising event that took place Feb. 1, Jagathon participants aimed to raise $25,000. They more than doubled that, bringing in $50,988.63.

Some 100 student organizations on campus participate in Jagathon, fundraising throughout the year and showing off their moves at the dance marathon.

"We actually pit them all against each other for fundraising, and there's a Color War champion. They get to play games with their color team and against other color teams," said Kendra Mifflin, president of Jagathon and senior nursing major. "It sounds silly maybe, but people get super hyped. It's really nice. They feel united in their color team. It's no longer, 'I'm Phi Mu.' It's 'I'm Phi Mu and I'm Pink Team, and in Jagathon, we're all Pink.' I like not necessarily stripping them of their student org title, but being united for the kids."

Being united for the kids -- or FTK, as you'll often see on campus -- is really the driving force behind Jagathon, which is celebrating its 15th year. It's also something that drives Tarlton. Even when she is not working with Jagathon, she continues to be drawn to Riley Hospital for Children.

This semester, having decided to major in philanthropic studies and minor in ASL, Tarlton began volunteering at the hospital's Child Life Zone. The largest Child Life Zone in the country, it's a place where young patients can briefly escape their medical routines and simply be the kids that they are.
"I really love all the different aspects I get to see for giving back to Riley -- the Foundation side, the dance marathon side and the actual hospital-volunteering side," said Tarlton, whose smile never leaves when she talks about her work. "I love all sides; I can't tell you which one I like more. That's what I do for Riley."

And for the kids.

You can donate to Jagathon online.

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