By Susan Monteleone
ELDRED October 19, 2004 Last month, the hills of Sullivan County were filled with ATV riders on a benefit Poker Run sponsored by the Sullivan County ATV Association in honor of two local children, Aiden Hanley and Gracie Hillriegel, both suffering from serious medical conditions.
And on Friday at the Eldred Preserve, a special dinner was held to present the children with checks to help with their ongoing medical bills $13,000 apiece.
Jay Meddaugh, president of the Sullivan County ATV Association, noted, "This is our sixth year hosting Poker Runs for children. We started out with only 30 guys in the association, and now we are even larger. We take it very seriously in helping these children, and if we can help them and their families in a small way, then it is all worth it."
Meddaugh continued, When we decide on who we will hold a benefit Poker Run, for it is not taken lightly. We research the papers to see if there are children in need, we contact doctors and hospitals, and listen to others who may know of someone who needs help. When we choose the child, the family goes through an interview process, and they have to meet our criteria. We just do not give to anyone we are positive that the family needs the money. A family today can only pay so much."
One of those children is 6-year-old Gracie Hillriegel of Callicoon, who has been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is treatable (and Gracie is 80 percent better). She is currently undergoing chemotherapy and is in remission. Gracie should be traveling to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla only once a month for chemotherapy beginning in February but is currently traveling there 2 to 3 days a week, which is a three-hour ride each way for her family.
Gracie's family, however, was thrilled with the dinner.
"Words cannot express enough how thankful we are for what everyone has done for Gracie. The ATV event was the biggest thing we have ever seen, and it is amazing how many people came out for these two very special children," stated Gracie's dad, Brian.
Her mom, Jeannie, also noted, "I cannot thank the four-wheelers enough for caring for my little girl. When we came here to see the show, the ATVs were all over, and there was nowhere to park. It was amazing to see, and I am thankful to everyone for caring so much about our little girl."
Aiden Hanleys family also could not be more thankful for what the ATV Association has done for the 2-year-old.
"Aiden recently had a heart transplant because his heart just wasn't strong enough. Now he has a brand new heart, and it seems that his body has accepted it, said his mom, Melanie of Yulan. We still have to run back and forth to the city and the medical bills are high, and we only have Medicaid. It is just Aiden and I, and I just love him so much.
Meddaugh said that this years Poker Run would not have been possible without the dedicated ATV riders that came out as well as the following people who opened their personal property to allow the 52-mile-long run: The American Legion Ambulance, The Eldred Preserve, The Town of Highland, Excelsior Hunting Club, Iroquois Hunting Club, The Ten Mile River Boy Scouts, John Pollce, Harold Russell Farm, Sam Smith, Harold Russell Jr., Randy Gore, Steve and Tara Abrams, Steve Lagoda, Fosterdale Motors, and Steve Dubrovsky.