Helping kids through dancing and movement


Photo by Kristin Parisi

Sarah Schaefer, a child life specialist, spoke at Dance Marathon last Sunday

Sarah Schaefer was only 15 when she was hospitalized with secondary HLH, a rare blood condition in which the immune system goes into overdrive and starts consuming the cells in the body. Schaefer had no white blood cells, couldn’t fight any infections and spent over a month in the hospital at Children’s Wisconsin.

Last Sunday she spoke at Marquette’s Dance Marathon, a fundraiser to support Children’s Wisconsin. Dance Marathon took place over the course of 12 hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dance Marathon was able to raise $40,406.09.

It was kind of a very pivotal moment for me because as a teenager being in the hospital is a really tricky and challenging thing because you’re not there with your friends, you can only stay connected through your phone but everybody’s in school. It was really tough for me but, I had amazing support from my nurses,” Schaefer said at Marquette Dance Marathon 2022.

Following her hospitalization, Schaefer decided to pursue a career in health care and graduated with a degree in child life from Edgewood College in 2019. She began working at Children’s Wisconsin in November 2020. This June she’ll become the child life specialist in the same unit where she was treated.

For me the full circle moment of having the impact of Dance Marathon is seeing how these patients and their families have been affected and how you’re able to support them through your fundraising and through your advocacy … ” Schaefer said at the Dance Marathon.

Dance Marathon has a history of taking place at Marquette. The event has been going on for over a decade on Marquette’s campus.

“Dancing for this event is basically just giving hope and shining a light on the kids at the hospital. Dancing just means being a part of something bigger than yourself and giving back to the community and to help in any way you can, just to help out these families who need it,” Katie O’Donoghue, junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of Dance Marathon, said.

The event was held in person in the Alumni Memorial Union’s ballrooms after being virtual last year. Some of the patients and their families were able to attend the event this year after not being able to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Donoghue also said that it was some families’ first experience with Dance Marathon.

“… I think it’s really cool to hear from them and see how our money has specifically helped them in the past … and how they would not be able to be in the place that they are, in the mindset that they are, without the money that comes from our organization,” O’Donoghue said.

Grace Kaupp, senior in the College of Nursing and vice president of external relations for Dance Marathon is currently doing her clinicals at Children’s Wisconsin.

“Just seeing the care at Children’s that the nurses and staff provide for these kids and all the other resources at Children’s that they give to the kiddos our money goes to their resources. So it’s very cool to be able to see the work that we do and where the money goes, it’s very awesome and inspiring,” Kaupp said.

However, her clinicals are not the first time she’s been involved at Children’s Wisconsin.

“My older sister was treated at Children’s for many years, so growing up I was immersed into the hospital setting at a very young age and Children’s is just such an amazing hospital and organization,” Kaupp said.

While Kaupp credits her interest in nursing as a reason for her involvement, she said many people involved with Dance Marathon are not looking to go into the medical field. Kaupp said the group is comprised of people who are passionate about fighting pediatric illness.

“If you’re ever interested in getting involved with Dance Marathon, sign up. There are so many ways to get involved and it truly is such an amazing organization to be a part of,” Kaupp said.

Kristin Parisi and Tori Wells-Dudka contributed to this report.

This story was written by Megan Woolard. She can be reached at and on Twitter @MeganWoolard4