Dalton Waggoner is a real boy with a real story. While a life-size advertising campaign cutout of a smiling Dalton stands erected inside more than 70 Daily’s/twicedaily convenience stores across Middle Tennessee, he’s not a child actor or model – though certainly cute enough to be.
The 8-year-old third-grader from Bowling Green, Ky., lends his story, ear-to-ear grin and cheery disposition to a cause he holds dear to his heart: Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN).
For four years now, Dalton has been the face of the Children’s Miracle Network campaign at Daily’s stores, helping raise money for Children’s Hospital, where he has visited many times since birth for doctors’ appointments and procedures for his heart and other conditions. At the stores, customers can purchase a paper icon of a balloon for a dollar, which is donated back to Children’s Hospital.
“I never tell our story for someone to feel sorry for our son or our family. I tell it only to give hope to other families and to help the staff at Children’s Hospital know that no matter what their position is, their role makes an impact on a family,” said Susan Waggoner, Dalton’s mom. “I also think it is great for people in the community to see that there are real patients who are grateful for their donations and the difference they make.”
In 1983, 20 hospitals from across the nation banded together to help children like Dalton. Vanderbilt’s children’s hospital was one of those founding members of an organization called Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
The common goal of the network was to save the lives of children by raising funds and awareness for children’s hospitals, and served as a sort of “Good Housekeeping seal of approval” for member hospitals. Actor John Schneider, of the Dukes of Hazzard, and singer/actress Marie Osmond co-founded CMN, and working with a dedicated team of children’s hospitals, television stations and sponsors ran a televised fundraiser that year to help communities support their local pediatric institutions.
“Vanderbilt’s children’s hospital and the Nashville market were very important to us for two major reasons. First, the stellar reputation of the hospital and the national presence the hospital has. Second, we were doing a national telethon that was going to use entertainers to perform and be our ‘messengers’ of the CMN mission,” said Joseph G. Lake, also a co-founder of CMN, now retired.
“We wanted Los Angles and we wanted Nashville, and thanks to your hospital and your willingness to join us, as L.A. did, we hit it out of the park.”
Located in Salt Lake City, Utah, the international non-profit CMN has grown to 170 children’s hospitals over three decades.
Since Vanderbilt joined the partnership 30 years ago, more than 70 community and corporate partners across 48 counties in Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky have raised more than $25 million solely for Children’s Hospital through CMN. Funds raised locally remain in the community to support local children’s needs at the hospital.
“It is inspirational to see the support of our many community partners,” said Luke Gregory, chief executive officer of Children’s Hospital. “Our affiliation with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals shines a light on the impact of combined efforts for a common cause.”
Much of the money raised through the organization comes from the sale of paper balloon icons—stamped with the signature CMN and Children’s Hospital logos—at local partners’ stores, including Walmart, Daily’s, Great Clips, Ace Hardware, Jersey Mike’s, area credit unions, among many others. The partners also place coin canisters in their stores for customers to voluntarily drop off the loose change from their pockets.
Making a big impact on lifesaving care for children, 19 CMN partners account for almost $20 million of the total support over the years, with Walmart the most committed partner at $6.2 million and counting. WTVF NewsChannel5 (Telethon), Clear Channel Media (Radiothon), Vanderbilt University Dance Marathon and Daily’s round out the top five.
Total CMN support from Daily’s, where’s Dalton’s face is seen far and wide, has reached nearly $1.2 million in 10 years. They are a committed, ongoing partner.
“Our company is dedicated to our community, and we work to make a difference. Our support of Children’s Hospital is the perfect opportunity to do just that and help our customers—who are also our neighbors—have the chance to support a place that is critical to our children’s well-being,” said Steve Hostetter, chief executive officer of Daily’s Convenience Stores and Children’s Hospital Board member.
“To have such an enthusiastic partner in the Waggoner family makes all the difference. Dalton is a real-life example of how Children’s Hospital impacts our lives. His image and story provide a clear understanding of what we’re supporting.”
The Waggoner family never imagined they would need to access the care at Children’s Hospital. They had driven by the brand new, freestanding children’s hospital several times after it opened in February 2004—seven months before Dalton was born.
“If you never have to walk into (the hospital to access services for your child) as a parent or grandparent or family, you’re lucky; we were just that before Dalton was born,” said Susan Waggoner. “It was a beautiful building on the outside, but it was a truly amazing building when we had to be there.”
Dalton was born eight weeks premature, but was doing well enough that he didn’t have to be placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Initially diagnosed with a heart murmur, an appointment with a cardiologist at Children’s Hospital just hours after the Waggoners left the maternity ward alerted them it was far more serious.
“We left the delivering hospital thinking we were going home this happy, healthy family—or so we thought. The cardiologist told us Dalton may have one to six hours before he could go into cardiac arrest,” Susan Waggoner said.
Doctors diagnosed the infant with a congenital heart defect called unicuspid aortic stenosis, characterized by a narrow heart valve that doesn’t allow the heart to pump blood properly. In Dalton’s case, his valve was completely closed. At 3 days old and weighing 5 pounds, Dalton had his first heart procedure.
Doctors did not know if he would survive the week.
In addition, he was also diagnosed with ectodermal dysplasia, which means he has no hair and his body cannot regulate its temperature, such as sweating when he’s hot.
Fast forward eight years, Dalton is a thriving, third-grader who loves video games and sports, though he is not allowed to play most of them because of his conditions. He will need open heart valve replacement surgery throughout his life because the replacement valve he has will not grow with him.
He’s busy giving back to the hospital where he has spent so much time. When he enters a Daily’s store, customers and employees are always shocked to see him.
“‘He’s real,’ we always hear people say. Dalton thinks it’s funny,” said Susan Waggoner. “We’ve always taught our children to give back to others—Dalton taught us not to take things for granted. At this stage in Dalton’s journey—and it is just that, a journey—we are able to give back to the hospital that has given our family so much.”
Dozens of families have shared their stories over the years for the Children’s Miracle Network. Families impart their heartwarming and inspiring tales of strength, faith and family-centered care in campaigns for other stores and at events such as the Children’s Miracle Network telethon held every year on the first Sunday in June on Nashville’s NewsChannel 5. There’s also Miracle Jeans Day which allows employees to donate $5 to be able to wear jeans to work one day. On IHOP National Pancake Day people can make a suggested donation for a free stack of pancakes. And the event list is growing every year.
The family stories make it easy for CMN partners to get on board. Marriott is the longest tenured partner—joining CMN 30 years ago. Walmart has been involved for 25 years.
“At Walmart, we believe we can make a difference in communities across the country by supporting charitable organizations that help people live better,” said Shana Bailey- DeSmit, the retail store’s senior director regional general manager. “Through the work of Children’s Miracle Network, each year millions of sick children find comfort, treatment and hope. These children and their families often live in the communities we serve, the communities our customers and associates call home. We are proud to support their efforts and pleased with the enthusiastic involvement that our associates have shown.”
The associates that work for Walmart take personal ownership of the campaign, making it fun while supporting a good cause. Margaret C. Pardue, who works at a Paris, Tenn., Walmart, even takes on a different personality for the Walmart campaign in May and June. She’s no longer “Margaret.” Instead, she’s the “Crazy Hay Lady.” It should be “hat,” but a computer typo on the sign attached to her first-ever hat asked people to help her raise money for CMN to “get this hay off my head.” People have donated with enthusiasm for more than two years, and Pardue has personally raised more than $4,000 for CMN. So “crazy hay” stuck. This year, her goal is to raise $2,000.
“I have a niece and nephew, and my nephew wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Vanderbilt; he’s 20 now,” said Pardue. “It’s a great hospital, and there are special children out there that need our help because they are sick.”
–written by Christina Echegaray
© 2016 Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt