True Riley Kids lead drive for 10th anniversary Carmel Dance Marathon
By Mark Ambrogi
Just a few weeks ago, Katie Tortorice was forced to use a wheelchair as her doctor struggled to find a new way to treat her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
For about six weeks, Tortorice was in so much pain she couldn’t walk. Finally in late January, her Riley Hospital for Children doctor helped her find the right drug (Humira) to replace Remicade, which her body became immune to and was no longer working after 12 years.
“I have to get a shot in my thigh every two weeks and it hurts like the dickens,” said the Carmel High School senior, who describes it as glass searing through her veins. “But it’s so worth it because it so fun to walk and not have it hurt.”
On Feb. 21, Tortorice will not only be walking but dancing, not to mention be on her feet for six hours.
Tortorice, president of Carmel Dance Marathon, which benefits Riley Hospital, will take the stage and share her story with her fellow students.
“I’m going to cry like a baby, I just know it,” Tortorice said.
She won’t be alone. Count on quite a few tears being spilled as the school’s senior homecoming queen shares her story.
“I’m going to be able to stand up on that stage and say because of Riley I can dance here with you guys — and that’s priceless,” Tortorice said. “My doctor (Susan Ballinger) did everything she could to find the right cure for me. Now I’m able to run, jump, work out and drive.”
She just hopes some freshmen can be moved as she and fellow Dance Marathon leader Henry Curts were as freshmen.
“I just hope that something good can come from something that was pretty bad,” Tortorice said of her recent setback.
Like Tortorice, Curts became a Riley Kid, too, at age 2. It was then that Curts was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. His parents initially thought it was a stomach virus.
“My parents took me to a hospital after a week ago and my blood sugar was off the charts,” Curts said. “The equipment wasn’t suitable to treat a 2-year-old and they couldn’t get my blood sugar down. I was taken to another hospital and the same thing. Finally they took me to Riley. They were able to treat me and brought my blood sugar down. My parents were told if my blood sugar had gotten any higher, I would have slipped into a coma. Riley saved me from slipping into the coma.”
Curts, who uses an insulin pump, visits Riley four times per year for treatment and check-ups. Curts is active playing intramural and Carmel Dads Club basketball.
“I would not be able to do that without Riley,” said Curts, who is the school’s student government’s Speaker of the House.
Carmel High School art teacher Sarah Wolff helped Casey Crouse start Carmel’s Dance Marathon to honor his late sister. An Indiana University Dance Marathon Executive Council Member, Ashley, a student of Wolff, died in a car accident in April 2005. The next year Carmel’s Dance Marathon began to honor one of Ashley’s passions.
“That was our way to honor her and help Casey grieve as a senior,” said Wolff, the Dance Marathon sponsor. “Since then thousands of kids have come through the program and it’s continued to grow.”
Wolff has been moved by the dedication of Tortorice and Curts and how they push themselves. She sees the days when the duo are at the lowest because of their diseases.
“Personally seeing what Katie has gone through and not being able to help her has been hard,” Wolff said. “As a teacher and an adult, I’m a fixer. That’s what I do. It’s been a helpless feeling.”
Their example has renewed Wolff’s .
“It’s a lot of work. It’s probably as much work as my teaching career here is if not more at times,” Wolff said. “It’s given me a renewed sense of focus and drive this year because the face and the name of this has changed this year and it’s these two kids. I would do anything for them and to give them this opportunity to feel they are making a difference and they are. They’re incredible young leaders.”
Wolff expects the two leaders’ speeches will resonate with the student body.
“These two kids have been affected by what we are talking about,” Wolff said. “It has a face. It has a name. It’s walking our halls. It’s not a couple of miles away. When Katie comes to our student government meetings and our announcements in a wheelchair, you (have to be) affected by that. Or when Henry comes to a student government meeting and he just feels awful but he comes because he has to lead a group of 500 students. He comes just for that period because he can’t make it through the rest of the school day.”
Carmel, the nation’s largest dance marathon, raised a high school record of $324,597 in 2014.
“Honestly, we never talk about numbers ever,” Curts said. “It’s do as much as you can do and if you put your all in it, that’s a success.”
Tortorice seconded that emotion.
“I guarantee if we don’t beat the total from last year, we will still cry of joy,” Tortorice said.
About Henry Curts
Age: Turns 18 on April 20.
Interests: Sports, Huge Indiana University basketball fan, Carmel Young Life.
Favorite subject: “I have four classes with Ms. Wolff so I love that, making pottery. I love Astronomy.”
Favorite TV show: “I’m big on SportsNation. I love Michelle Beadle. That’s my go-to.”
Best memory: “I think my best memory is going to be Feb. 21. Every year the highlight of my year is Dance Marathon. You are standing for six hours and the video plays of Ashley’s life, that’s so emotional. They do the total and we do the dance one more time. Everyone is hugging each other. I probably cried my eyes out for an hour-and-a-half on the stage last year.”
About Katie Tortorice
Age: Turns 18 on Feb. 27.
Interests: Carmel Young Life.
Favorite relaxation: “I love going to my grandparents’ house. They live on a lake in Martinsville. I love going water skiing and tubing. I love to cook but I’m really not good at it.”
Favorite TV show: “During my flare-up, I watched every movie on Netflix so I’m kind of sick of TV right now.”
Favorite subject: “Art Aid with Ms. Wolff, doing anything and everything Dance Marathon. I was in math class a few days ago and I texted both Henry and Ms. Wolff that I can’t focus on anything but Dance Marathon. I do enjoy school, though.”
Plan for major: “I want to major in elementary ed. I want to be a teacher. I think I want to go Hope College, which is a small Christian school in Holland, Mich. They do have a dance marathon there and they have Young Life.”