Artfelt thanks


Dance Marathon to benefit hospital that saved Zionsville teen’s life

By Dawn Pearson

Just hours after their daughter was born, Greg and Jeanne Laker received news that no parents ever want to hear: Their full-term baby girl was very ill and had to be rushed to Riley Hospital for Children in order to try and save her life.

Their daughter, Abbie, was born with underdeveloped kidneys, which led to life-threatening complications, including devastating effects on the lungs.

“Abbie was at Riley within six hours of being born, and that’s why she’s here,” Jeanne Laker stated in a previous article. “There were opportunities at Riley no other hospital had.”

Now, 17 years later, Abbie is thriving as a junior at University High School in Carmel. Thanks to her courage and selfless dedication, she has been named a Riley Champion and is helping put on her school’s Dance Marathon, which serves as a fundraiser for the hospital that saved her life.

“It’s been great [being a Riley Champion]this year,” said Abbie, who lives in Zionsville. “We got to go to Colts and Pacers games, but the best event was when we made pancakes at IHOP with Miss America for the Children’s Miracle Network. But being part of my school’s Dance Marathon for Riley is one of my biggest ways of giving back to Riley.”

A special bond

Abbie plans to dance the night away with her classmates and supporters at the Dance Marathon, something that seemed unthinkable during her first few years.

After spending her first month of life on a ventilator to grow strong enough for surgery, she had her first operation.

“They removed her right kidney and reconstructed her left kidney,” Jeanne Laker said. “From there she’s had multiple surgeries and doctor appointments, followed by specialists in orthopedics, developmental pediatricians and gastrointestinal and was fed by a G-Tube just in her first six months.”

Just a few years later, Abbie needed another kidney surgery. This time, she wasn’t the only one in her family to go under the knife. Her mother agreed to donate one of her own kidneys to Abbie as soon as she learned she was a match.

“We’ve had 12 great years, and both of us are good,” Jeanne Laker said. “Abbie is on lots of meds and will be for life, but we are blessed she’s had 12 good years of kidney function.”

Because of their unique bond, Abbie and Jeanne are probably a little closer than most mothers and daughters.

“We all three would say they are closer than most, as they are literally and figuratively joined at the hip,” said Greg Laker, adding with a laugh that he feels a little left out at times.

Giving back

The Lakers are beyond grateful for what the doctors at Riley did for their daughter, and hospital officials are inspired by Abbie’s strength, perseverance and generous spirit. That’s why they selected her as one of eight children to represent the hospital as a Riley Champion this year.

“Abbie was named a Riley Champion not only for her medical journey at Riley Hospital but also her [drive]to give back to the Riley community,” said Karlee Hepp, Dance Marathon Coordinator for the Riley Children’s Foundation. This year, more than 80 Dance Marathons are planned throughout Indiana to benefit Riley.

One way she’s helping the hospital is by serving as the director of Riley Relations for her school’s Dance Marathon. Her duties include communicating with other Riley families and encouraging them to support the Dance Marathon by sharing their stories as well.

Amelia Eskenazi, president of the UHS Dance Marathon, said she hopes to raise $10,000 at this year’s event. The school has raised more than $25,000 for Riley in the three Dance Marathons, adding that it wouldn’t have been such a success without Abbie.

“I am so lucky to be able to call her my friend as well as have the privilege to work with her on this wonderful event benefiting Riley Hospital for Children,” Eskenazi said. “She has inspired me to have a more positive outlook on life and to really see the lasting impact that Riley has on families.”

In addition to her role as a director, Abbie is also serving as a decoration coordinator for the Dance Marathon, thanks to her “creativity and artistic eye,” Eseknazi said. Abbie has had a lifelong passion for art and hopes to one day become an interior designer. For now, she enjoys sharing her work with other patients at Riley.

Both Greg and Jeanne believe it is important for Abbie to give back to Riley so the doctors can continue providing lifesaving care for other families in their time of need.

“One of the neat things we’ve seen over the years is just how Abbie can be as sick as any kid can be, and that Riley has become part of our family,” Greg said. “It doesn’t feel like a hospital, it feels like home.”


What: University High School’s Dance Marathon

When: 3 to 9 p.m. March 21

Where: University High School, 2825 W. 116th St, Carmel

Cost: $15

More info: The Dance Marathon will include dancing, games, crafts, food and more. Find more information and donate to the Dance Marathon at

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