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THON 2023 Raises Record $15 Million for the Fight Against Pediatric Cancer

Penn State’s THON capped its 51st year with another record fundraising total to support pediatric cancer patients and research.

THON 2023 raised $15,006,132.46 for the Four Diamonds at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, the student-run philanthropy revealed on Sunday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center. The announcement came following the conclusion of the annual 46-hour dance marathon that began at 6 p.m. on Friday, the culmination of a year of fundraising efforts.

The total eclipses the previous record of $13.7 million set last year.

“This year has been a year of incredible successes for the THON community and that’s all attributed to the 16,500 student volunteers who we have working day in and day out to help us further our mission,” THON 2023 Executive Director and Penn State senior Lily Pevoto said prior to the start of the event on Friday.

THON has now raised more than $219 million since partnering with Four Diamonds, ensuring that no pediatric cancer patient family at Penn State Children’s Hospital receives a bill. It has assisted nearly 5,000 families while helping to build comprehensive care services for patients and families and the hospital’s childhood cancer research enterprise.

“What’s incredible to me is the love and care that’s behind those numbers,” Suzanne Graney, Four Diamonds executive director, said. “If you try to raise $200 million as a single person, it would take more than a lifetime, I believe, to do that.”

More than 700 official dancers were joined by thousands of volunteers, supporters and Four Diamonds families throughout the weekend in an often packed Jordan Center.

“One of the things that we always think about when we think about THON is gratitude,” Graney said. “We are so grateful for the 16,500 students that give more than five million hours of their time every year to make THON happen, and they’re making it happen for the kids.”

During Sunday’s Family Hour, Greta Bomgardner, whose son Gus was diagnosed with an atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor, shared her family’s story.

Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center on the final day of THON 2023. Photo by Annie Kubiak | Onward State

Gus spent months in the ICU, battling the tumor and all the side effects that came with his cancer and treatment. He spent 197 days in the hospital, went through 10 brain surgeries, 29 rounds of radiation, and was under anesthesia more than 60 times. But on Feb. 4, 2022, Gus finished his treatment and was then declared tumor-free on Dec. 26. When Greta Bomgardner shared that news, the crowd erupted in cheers.

“That cheering means a lot to me as you celebrate him where he is today,” she said.

She also shared how impactful Four Diamonds is in helping cover the costs associated with cancer treatment. One day, Gus’s family was billed on accident for his fifth round of chemo, 48 days of inpatient care, and two brain surgeries. The bill was 26 pages long and cost over $649,000, a number the family would’ve had to pay if it wasn’t for Four Diamonds.

She also shared her gratitude for ATO and ZTA, who were paired with the Bomgardner family. She said that meeting former Four Diamonds child Tucker Haas, who danced in THON this year as a Penn State senior, and learning about his journey with cancer and THON was inspiring.

“It gives me hope that Gus too will grow past this into a life of purpose. That cancer, while it will not shape, will help define,” she said.

For many families, THON is a reunion, returning year after year to be with the students with whom they have forged strong bonds. This year’s event also welcomed 30 new Four Diamonds families who had never attended THON before, a reminder that until there is a cure, the organization’s mission is a relentless effort.

“It is truly breathtaking when I think about the vastness of what has happened and how many people have been able to be helped because we have so many students and community members who care so much about kids and want to help all of us collectively get to that day when we get to dance in celebration,” Graney said.

Photo by Alysa Rubin | Onward State