News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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August 23, 2012

‘Champion at Heart’

Eastern Greene Elementary student named the 2012 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion for Indiana

TERRE HAUTE — Less than a day after BJ Yoho was born in 2002, he had surgery to relieve pressure from complications of spina bifida.

Since then, the now 10-year-old has had 16 additional surgeries and the amputation of his right leg, which did not grow correctly after birth, said his mother, Blaine Yoho. She described her child as a “champion at heart.”

On Wednesday, amid applause from the entire student body of Eastern Greene Elementary School, Yoho was named the 2012 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion for Indiana. He is among 50 children selected nationwide to represent the network of hospitals.

Yoho will represent Indiana and Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in visits next month to the nation’s capital (Sept. 16-18) and to Walt Disney World in Florida (Sept. 19-22). A banner will hang in the school to mark Yoho as this year’s champion.

“I am going to meet with the president in the White House. That is cool,” BJ said just before the assembly recognized his determination. He also will visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum while in Washington, D.C.

At Disney, he will participate in a Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals event. The network is a nonprofit organization that serves 170 children’s hospitals across North America. Since 1983, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals have raised more than $4 billion. More than 17 million children are treated at the network hospitals each year.

Jason Mueller, of Riley Children’s Foundation, said Yoho will have opportunities for radio and other media interviews to spread the word about children’s hospitals, including Riley Hospital for Children, and the impact it makes for children.

Mueller said the event in Washington allows the nation’s leadership to see children from their own state and learn what children’s hospitals have done during the patient’s medical journey.

“There is an importance to talk about pediatric care,” Mueller added.

Those who know BJ said he will be a good representative for Indiana and Riley Hospital.

“I have been here for five years and I have watched him grow and change, but the one thing that has always remained constant is his smile,” said Jeremiah Glass, BJ’s fourth-grade teacher at Eastern Green, located about 12 miles east of Bloomfield.

“He is never rude to anyone and he is always very polite and he has always been considerate. He is a great kid. He is a treasure,” Glass said. “Poster child? Yeah, he has it in him.”

BJ’s mother said the designation as a champion for Riley “is like I am in a dream,” Blaine Yoho said. “It is so overwhelming and I cannot be a more proud mom. Riley Hospital has been such a godsend to our family. I don’t even want to think what would have happen if Riley Hospital was not in our lives,.” She added that her son will undergo another surgery in November.

For the past three years, BJ has collected toys for a Christmas drive for Riley.

“I feel great that I have been selected as a champion because I like to help other kids,” BJ said. Last year, he collected 638 toys for Riley Hospital’s Christmas drive, by leaving drop-off boxes at school and banks in his community. Because of that, Yoho is nicknamed “BJ Claus.”

This year he hopes to collect 1,000 toys. Ty Mungle, superintendent of Eastern Greene schools, announced a second Greene County elementary school will join with Eastern Greene with a goal of raising 2,000 toys.

This year marks a big year for BJ, who also appeared on the back of a Cheerios box promoting John Andretti’s 16th annual Kroger Race for Riley fundraiser.

Doug Frye, a member of the Bloomfield Town Council, read a proclamation at the school assembly designating Aug. 22 as BJ Yoho Day. In addition, he presented BJ with $1,000, raised from business contributions, for the Christmas drive.

Sharon Abts, principal at the elementary school, said next week the school will hold a hat day, where students pay to wear a hat in school. Abts hopes to raise $500 from the event for BJ’s Christmas drive.

“Riley Hospital is my second home,” BJ said. “They helped me feel not scared” during surgeries. Some of that fearlessness is evident, as Yoho said he wants to be an “exterminator” — a pest control manager — when he grows up. “You know, move alligators or a fox or other animals to other locations, like Billy the Exterminator on A&E TV.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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