University High School in Carmel has inspiration for its Dance Marathon


Staff report

When University High School students conduct their annual Dance Marathon from 3 to 9 p.m. March 22, it won’t be just to benefit Riley Hospital for Children. It will also be to help their peers who have had to rely on Riley doctors to save their lives.

University student J.T. Wood first visited Riley Hospital when he was just a few days old to have life-saving heart surgery for aortic stenosis.

During a more recent trip to Riley, the Indianapolis teenager came dressed as the Tin Man, joining other actors in bringing the magic of Oz to Riley kids.

“It was really cool going into the hospital rooms and saying hi to them, and seeing them get so excited,” J.T. said. “It means a lot to me, this chance to come full-circle.”

J.T. said he can’t remember the scariest part of his Riley journey.

“I never really got the gravity of the situation until my mom would talk about it and start tearing up,” he said.

A friend was visiting Steve and Amanda Wood a few days after J.T.’s birth and noticed the newborn’s rapid heartbeat. The friend and urged the Woods to call a doctor.

“I called the hospital where he was born and got a nurse on the phone,” Steve Wood said. “She wanted us to call our pediatrician, but I hesitated since it was so late. She got really firm with me and said, ‘If you don’t think you can call your pediatrician at midnight, then you need to get another pediatrician. Call your pediatrician.’ If she hadn’t done that, he would have died.”

J.T. was referred to Riley Hospital for Children, where his family found reassurance in the calm way doctors explained the surgery that Dr. John Brown would perform to open J.T.’s pinched valve.

“Everything was explained so well,” Amanda Wood said. “We had some people in our module who were angels.”

J.T. has gone through several additional heart procedures and may need future surgery. In the meantime, he and his family have found many ways to give back. He’s even decided to speak at this year’s Dance Marathons at University.

J.T. has found his second home on stage. His passion for musical theatre has landed him in dozens of school, community and professional theatre productions. And his senior year plans include auditioning for college musical theatre programs and using the Riley Champions’ spotlight to inspire other kids facing medical challenges.

“Keep the faith. There’s always a plan,” he said. “Keep positive. I know sometimes it is hard, but find things that make you happy.”

As for his mother, it’s not hard to sum up what it is that makes her son a Riley Champion. It’s just hard to get the words out without tears.

“It’s his heart,” Amanda Wood said.

You can help, too
This year’s goal is to raise more than $8,000. To help contribute visit