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The momentum behind fundraising efforts for the Fitch Family Comprehensive Pediatric Rehabilitation Program shows no signs of slowing down. Since its inception, the community has rallied around this vital cause, driven by a shared commitment to improving pediatric rehabilitation services in North Carolina.

As a member of the 2009 UNC men’s basketball national championship team, Marcus Ginyard is no stranger to the excitement of March in Chapel Hill. His status as a beloved Tar Heel and his passion for supporting children’s health made him a perfect candidate to host the 2024 edition of the Rivalry Roundup supporting UNC Children’s and the Fitch Rehab Program.

Hundreds of Carolina fans and UNC Children’s supporters gathered once again at the Blue Zone inside Kenan Stadium to cheer on the Tar Heels to a big rivalry win over Duke in early March, while also raising over $100,000 and awareness for the rehab program.

Now in its third year, the Fitch Rehab Program is gaining traction in its mission to make comprehensive pediatric rehab services available to the children and families of North Carolina, thanks to the dedication of faculty, staff, and community volunteers across UNC Health, UNC School of Medicine, and the greater Chapel Hill area.

The Blue Zone was whipped into a frenzy by halftime with the Heels leading by 10. At intermission, long-time family friend Carolyn McGowan addressed the crowd to remind everyone of why events like Rivalry Roundup are critical for the future of healthcare in North Carolina.

McGowan still recalls the day she received messages when Lee Fitch, at just 10 years old, was gravely injured in an accident when a moving vehicle struck him and broke his ribs, back, and skull, and gave him a severe concussion.

“They’re very few times in my life that had me drop to my knees in prayer. I did that day when we all learned of Lee’s accident,” said McGowan.

The lack of suitable local rehab facilities led the Fitch family to Atlanta for treatment.

“As a parent of a special needs child, having the resources available (locally) is critical,” added McGowan. “It’s hard to sometimes even put into words how crucial and how important we need this for our area and for our state.”

In the three years since the accident, tremendous progress has been made towards the goal of raising $20 million and making this dream a reality of having a rehab center in our backyard.

Eve Pedersen, close friend of the Fitch family and veteran UNC Hospital employee, brings a unique perspective of just how important this project is for the community, while also understanding the impact it will have on families who will no longer be forced to travel far distances.

“I believe having this rehab center centrally located in North Carolina presents a great opportunity to be a feeder for all of the other health system entities in our area,” said Pedersen.

“It will provide a piece of mind for parents who are faced with that almost impossible situation…there is a day (coming) where that decision will not be as difficult.”

The growth of the UNC Health system over the past 20 years has been remarkable. The broad reach to the state of North Carolina has become so vast, yet this opportunity to fill a gaping hole in pediatric rehabilitation continues to become a reality with each passing day thanks to events like Rivalry Roundup.

“Just knowing you’re one step closer brings more and more excitement because you know what’s coming,” added McGowan. “The more talk that is generated about the rehab center and the more that Lee’s story gets out there only helps the process.”

Friends and supporters have made a huge impact. The fundraising goal of $3 million has been completed for Phase 1 that helped enable care coordination and family support. An additional $1 million has been raised towards the Phase 2 goal of $3 million where the focus has shifted to supporting the recruitment and retention of experts in the pediatric rehabilitation field.

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