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DISNEY PARKS HOST CHOC WALK

October 15, 2012

From The Orange County Register

Published October 14, 2012

By ROXANA KOPETMAN / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

ANAHEIM – Goofy got them started with some easy stretches. Mickey Mouse and his friends welcomed them with a wave and some dancing.

Thousands poured through Disney California Adventure and continued through Disneyland in support of the 22nd annual Children's Hospital of Orange County Walk, which helps support services, education and research at the hospital.

Some came to remember children who died. Others walked to encourage little ones facing tough health problems. Yet others came in support of the hospital that saved their kids' lives.

"They saved her at CHOC," Brian Bowerman of Cypress said of his daughter Caitlin, now 7.

Trips to three hospitals and no one knew why his newborn was vomiting and dehydrated. The CHOC staff figured it out in about an hour, he said.

Bowerman walked with just his daughter. But other walkers arrived before sunrise in big groups.

Together, the 16,000 participants raised a record $1.8 million to support the hospital – a figure officials hope will go higher before the drive ends on Oct. 31.

The "Runnin for Ronan" team included 140 family members, including some 20 who flew in from Boston, alongside neighbors and members of the Warrior baseball crew of Irvine. Their banner featured a photo of the cute little blond boy who had cystic fibrosis and died of an infection four years ago. In honor of Ronan McCarthy, the team raised more than $11,000 this year, said neighbor William Castanha.

While many participants said they would take advantage of the discounted rates to enter the parks after the walk, the Ronan team planned to head to the McCarthy home, where the family treats its supporters to breakfast each year.

Julie Gomez of Yorba Linda also had a big group to support her. Her team, decked out in black and a few capes for her little boy's favorite character, Batman, started with a half-dozen walkers some six years ago. On Sunday, she was joined by more than 100 friends and family members to remember 5-year-old Robby, who loved Batman so much he would walk everywhere with his little action figurines.

"It's such an uplifting thing for us that all these people are here to remember him," Gomez said of the "Robby 'Batman' Gomez" team.

Gaby Cervantes of Tustin and Jennifer Burton of Anaheim formed the "Mommy's Little, Little Monsters" team and walked with their children, who went through CHOC for serious ailments.

"It's hard to leave your babies there at night, but knowing there are people who care makes it easier," said Burton, whose twins were born prematurely, one with a hole in her heart. Today, they are healthy.

So is Kelly Kohlmyer Morettini, who at age 15 was diagnosed with leukemia. Now, at 21, she is married. "One of my doctors came to my wedding," she said.

"And she's cancer-free!" her father, Ron Kohlmyer of Corona, chimed in. The sign he carried said: "From CHOC patient to Nurse Kelly."

"I loved my nurses at CHOC and all my doctors. They made me want to be a nurse," said Morettini, a nurse a Chino Valley Hospital.

For the nurses who work with some of the sickest kids, such messages are heartwarming. A group of CHOC's pediatric intensive care nurses who participated in the slow 5K walk – they dubbed it "the CHOC Crawl" – said it is gratifying to run into patients or their families during the event.

"It's neat to come to the CHOC Walk," nurse Jennifer Hayes said, "and see the impact we have made on the community."

Contact the writer: rkopetman@ocregister.com

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