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Six-Year-Old Named Grand Marshal of Fund-Raising Walk for Maria Fareri Children's Hospital

Open-heart surgery patient Brooklyn Benedikt will lead the 8th-annual Go the Distance walk and family fun day April 22 at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center.

Brooklyn Benedikt thinks it's "super cool" that she will be the grand marshal of this year's Go the Distance walk and family fun day benefiting the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla on April 22.

The grand marshal sash and T-shirt she got to wear at the kick-off breakfast celebrating her appointment Saturday morning only added to her excitement. Last year’s grand marshal, Nathan Tormey, about 4, was on hand, as were approximately 100 other guests. Radio personality Kacey of 100.7 WHUD-FM’s morning team “Mike & Kacey” hosted the breakfast, which took place at the conference center.

But beyond the party and pretty sash, Brooklyn, 6, and her family are grateful to give back to the hospital that changed their lives.

Nearly two years ago Brooklyn went to her pediatrician for what seemed a routine visit for strep throat. But her doctor heard a heart murmur and recommended she see a cardiologist. Dr. Deborah Friedman at Maria Fareri diagnosed the then-4-year-old with a life-threatening atrial septal defect.

"I had a hole in my heart," Brooklyn said by phone after the breakfast.

On Aug. 2, 2010, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Suvro Sett performed open-heart surgery on Brooklyn. Three days later the little girl, who lives in Crestwood, NY, was back home. She attended kindergarten that fall with a clean bill of health, but the Benedikts would be forever changed.

"That year Brooklyn was turning 5 and little her sister, Quinn, was turning 3. We turned their birthday party into fund-raiser and donated all of their birthday presents to sick children," said Andrea Benedikt, Brooklyn's mother.

Philanthropy is now a part of the Benedikts’ everyday lives. They have made the birthday present donation a tradition and plan to work with the Peter Pan Birthday Club at Maria Fareri to help collect more presents and raise funds for sick children. Last year the Benedikts raised $10,000 for Go the Distance.

With Brooklyn marshaling the 8th-annual Go the Distance, the family plans to use social media to harness even more donations. A Web site called donateyourcoffeemoney.org is in the works. Gregg Benedikt, Brooklyn's father, hopes people will be willing to sacrifice a coffee and donate the money to benefit the children who need Maria Fareri's services. 

The hospital serves seriously ill children in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster and Orange counties, as well as Fairfield County in Connecticut. There are 118 beds and a new athletics-themed "neighborhood" with nine beds is opening this year. Children pass through Maria Fareri for heart surgery, burn care, neurosurgery, transplants and other critical care issues every year.

Last year's Go the Distance helped fund the new "neighborhood." Thousands of people participate annually in the casual one-mile walk around the Westchester Medical Center campus that ends with outdoor activities in the courtyard. The event is the hospital’s largest and raises between $250,000 and $300,000. Patch is a sponsor this year.

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to give back to the hospital,” said Andrea Benedikt, calling the people who helped Brooklyn “friends for life. That’s just the way it is here."

For more information, go to www.westchestermedicalcenter.com/walk.

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