(Posted Aug. 9, 2018)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Vincent “Vinny” Hochstetler is a charmer, and it has everything to do with his infectious smile and the mischievous twinkle in his light blue eyes.
Who wouldn’t welcome a dose of that vim and vigor, especially while running by the 26-mile mark in a 26.2-mile race?
On Oct. 21, participants in the Columbus Marathon can expect to see the 8-year-old Londonite enthusiastically cheering them on as one of this year’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Patient Champions.
Each year, Children’s Hospital selects 24 current or former patients to man 24 of the 26 miles of the marathon course. The patient champions are joined by family, friends, doctors and other hospital staffers and, as teams, they root for the runners. The other two miles, the Encore Mile, honor former marathon patient champions, and the Angel Mile, celebrate the lives of patients who have passed on.
Vinny’s connection to Children’s Hospital started at birth. Born eight weeks early, he was diagnosed with profound deafness in both ears.
His adoptive family through the foster care system took him home from the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit when he was 8 weeks old and weighed just over five pounds.
At 4 months old, Vinny received his first pair of hearing aids. When he was almost 3, he had cochlear implant surgery on his right ear and the same surgery on his left ear a few years later.
“The cochlear implant surgeries totally changed his world. Having access to sound and the ability to hear at normal speech hearing levels has been an amazing gift for him,” said Mandy Hochstetler, Vinny’s mother.
A few weeks after his second cochlear implant, Vinny had a heart ablation procedure to repair his cardiovascular diagnoses of supraventricular tachycardia and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. During his first three years of life, Vinny was admitted to Children’s Hospital over 18 times. Today he no longer has heart issues.
Over the years, Children’s Hospital has been a home away from home for Vinny and his family, and the staff has become like family. Mandy is a member of the hospital’s audiology parent advisory team.
It only made sense that Vinny and his family would join in the marathon fun, supporting other patient champions as each year a mile is assigned to a young person with hearing impairments.
“We’ve been going to the marathon and cheering for the past five years,” Mandy said. “This year, we thought, ‘We come down anyway. Why don’t we apply to see if Vinny could be a patient champion?’”
As an honoree, Vinny gets to choose the audiology team theme, decorate the team’s tent, and design the team’s t-shirt. A big fan of soccer (he scored 15 goals for his youth soccer team last year), baseball, and hockey, the youngster has lots of interests to fuel inspiration. His pick?
“The Columbus Blue Jackets!” said Vinny, who goes to games with his dad, Myron, and attended a “learn to play hockey” program this past spring.
“He’s also excited about getting to wear the big blue hand,” Mandy said about the giant foam glove given to each patient champion. “He’s the only person on our team who will be allowed out on the course to high five the runners going by.”
Vinny’s team includes his parents and siblings–Meredith, 17, Vernon, 14, Maddie, 9, and Vaughn, 8. For the first time, Mandy and Vernon are running the half-marathon. The team also includes the doctor who performed Vinny’s cochlear implant surgery, his audiologist, one of his teachers, and other hospital staffers, friends and family.
“It’s just a big old party at Mile 26!” Mandy said.
The gang reports to cheering duty at 6 a.m. that Sunday and stays until the last runners pass by, sometime around mid-afternoon.
Between now and then, Vinny’s team is raising money for Children’s Hospital, all of which will go to the audiology department for patients who cannot afford treatment and equipment. 2018 marks the seventh year the hospital is the marathon’s title beneficiary.
To donate to Vinny’s team, go to http://give.nationwidechildrens.org/goto/hearingprogram2018.