Mickey Deputy acknowledges that Riley Hospital for Children saved her life.
She was born with Down Syndrome and three holes in her heart, causing her parents to move to Indiana from Illinois. Whether as an infant undergoing open-heart surgery or as a 7-year-old fighting through leukemia, that hospital has been a mainstay.
Though Mickey celebrated a decade of being leukemia-free this month, she still returns to Riley once a year to undergo preventative blood work. Mickey will be at high risk of being re-diagnosed with cancer for the rest of her life.
On Saturday, she will share her story with students at the Ball State Dance Marathon. She’ll participate in the talent show and spend a day with a room full of close friends. There are no strangers to Mickey at Riley events — just friends.
Mickey’s mother, Jenny Deputy, said her daughter has a zest for life that is unmatched. She lives and breathes for events like Dance Marathon.
“[Mickey] wants to make it so no other kid has to go through what she went through,” Jenny said. “That’s her ultimate goal: that one day there won’t be cancer.”
Jenny and her husband Michael Deputy will be in attendance Saturday with Mickey’s brother, Brad. They won’t stay for the entire event, though. The notion that Mickey only has friends at these events is not an exaggeration.
Jenny is so comfortable with the atmosphere that she’ll leave Mickey with her assigned "buddies" for a couple hours in the evening. The rest of the family will go out for dinner and come back for the final ceremonies. Jenny makes it a point to never miss the closing ceremonies.
Especially at Ball State, where both she and Michael studied in the late ’80s.
“Ball State is very near and dear to us,” Jenny said. “Some colleges set huge goals and those can become fundraising-driven, but Ball State kids don’t let that happen. They keep the family dynamics the same.”
Last year, Indiana University raised more than $3 million through it’s dance marathon. Purdue raised more than $1 million. Ball State’s marathon raised just over $300,000.
That’s what Brandon Puszkiewicz, co-director of Riley Relations for Ball State Dance Marathon, is most proud of. Despite raising less money, he and his peers work to make their event as family- and connection-focused as possible.
“We’re trying to reach a goal,” he said. “But we don’t lose focus of the real goal: making families feel special.”
The Deputy family is one of the most involved at Ball State, and Puszkiewicz said that’s the kind of relationship he works to build with other families. One of the easiest ways to both connect with the community and raise money is through social media.
Last week, former Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning offered $1 for every retweet and follower he got on Twitter over a certain period of time. Colts long snapper Matt Overton offered $1 for each new follower, too, and he eventually raised more than $3,000 for Ball State.
Overton has been involved with dance marathons all three years he’s been with the Colts. He’s never made the trip to Muncie, though.
“I’m excited to help get people fired up and see what Ball State is all about,” he said. “I want Ball State to get to the level they want.”
Mickey has been a junior cheerleader for the Colts for two seasons. What started it all, though, was when she met Chuck Pagano before a game in which she was chosen to be a Riley Coin Toss Kid. Pagano was still fighting leukemia at the time.
“I beat it, you can beat it too,” Mickey said to the Colts head coach.
Jenny said her message stuck with Pagano. He still keeps in touch with the Deputy family. Mickey was a junior cheerleader for two years after that and is signed up to cheer with the team again next season.
Overton is just one of many players that has reached out to Mickey. Before running a half-marathon with Mickey, Jenny asked Overton to send a note of support for her daughter. Instead, he showed his support in person.
Thanks in part to the relationships Mickey has made, she’s been able to make a difference. On Saturday, she’ll be taking one step toward her goal — to make sure there is no more cancer.
“It means the world to us that she gives back to Riley and to the community,” Jenny said. “It’s a tell of who she is. She wants to help others in any way she can.”