Spring 2018

Peyton's Promise is Here for the Long Run

By Linda Dougherty

Dustin and Debbie Laricks wanted to find a way to give back to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) after doctors there saved the life of their infant daughter, Peyton.


Peyton Elizabeth Laricks, born March 31, 2008, had a birth defect called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), which was discovered while she was still in utero. And thus began an emotional journey for the Laricks, whose happy outcome inspired the couple to create the Peyton’s Promise foundation, to raise money for the continued research of CDH at CHOP.


The signature event for Peyton’s Promise is the 5K Run/2K Walk, which celebrates its 10th renewal on Saturday, June 9, beginning at 43rd Street and the Promenade in Sea Isle City.


Registration for the event starts at 9am, with the race start time at 10:15. The fee for adults is $30, while children from 5-12 are $15, and children under 5 are free. Following the run and walk, a family-friendly after-party will be held, with food, music and raffles.


CDH occurs when the diaphragm muscle – the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen – fails to close during prenatal development, and the contents from the abdomen (stomach, intestines and/or liver) migrate into the chest through this hole.


About 1,600 babies are born with CDH every year in the U.S., or one in every 2,500 live births. The same numbers of babies are born with cystic fibrosis or spina bifida.


                                                            CHOP sees nearly 50 babies every year with CDH, which is more than anywhere in the 


In February 2008, the Laricks were shocked to learn that an ultrasound showed the baby Debbie was carrying had severe right-sided CDH. Her doctor immediately referred her to CHOP’s Center for Fetal Diagnosis & Treatment for extensive testing. Doctors there told the couple that not only did the baby have CDH, but at the time of the diagnosis she was too small to put on a highly invasive life-saving treatment known as Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a heart-and-lung bypass machine that allows the baby to rest while the lungs begin to recover.


The combination of the severe right-sided CDH and the baby’s small size and lungs didn’t offer much hope for a favorable outcome. The only way for the baby to survive was for Debbie to carry as close to full term as possible.


“Our multidisciplinary group at CHOP, which is very experienced with the worst cases, explained to Debbie and Dustin the outcomes,” says Dr. Marcus Davey, a senior research investigator with the Center for Fetal Research at CHOP, an extension of its Center for Fetal Diagnosis & Treatment.


“Those first 48 hours, I was stunned. I think I was in shock,” Debbie says of her reaction to the news.


After 34 days, Debbie was considered full term (37 weeks) and Peyton was born after an emergency Caesarean section. She was immediately placed on a ventilator to support her underdeveloped lungs.


“Peyton was born with very, very small lungs,” Davey says. “The survival rate among babies with very small lungs is about 50 percent; babies whose lungs are bigger and better developed can have a higher survival rate.”


The start of the 2017 Peyton’s Promise 5K on the Promenade in
Sea Isle City.


At just four days old, Peyton underwent surgery, performed by Dr. Ken Liechty, to repair her CDH in CHOP’s Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit, which avoided the risks of transporting her to an operating room.


The surgical team moved her organs back in place and closed the hole in her diaphragm with a soft tissue patch, creating space in her chest for her lungs to grow.


The surgery went as planned, but by the next day, Peyton took a turn for the worse. Her lungs weren’t functioning well enough to keep her blood oxygenated, and her heart was beating at a rapid rate. She had also lost all color in her face and lips. Doctors had no choice but to hook her up to the ECMO machine.


After 13 days, Peyton was taken off ECMO and her lungs had to do the work to keep her blood oxygenated. Later, she was removed from ventilators and was breathing on her own. On June 27, 88 days later, Peyton went home to Sea Isle.


Although she was home, she encountered some setbacks, and had to return to CHOP for additional procedures. And Debbie and Dustin had to learn how to care for her with the help of CHOP’s nurses and the Family Learning Center. By her third birthday, her feeding tube was removed and she was on her way to a complete recovery.


“We spent quite a bit of time in the hospital with Peyton, even a month before she was born,” says Dustin Laricks, who has a real estate business in Sea Isle. “The doctors told us to plan for the absolute worst. There was nothing we could do to wake up from the bad news. It was the most challenging, emotional time of our lives.


“The only thing we could do during this nightmare was to think of ways we could help the doctors. As Peyton slowly got better, it only reinforced our desire to do something to help the next baby have as good an outcome as Peyton did.”


The Laricks established Peyton’s Promise – “Helping Babies Breathe Easier” – about a year after Peyton’s birth. Dustin said he had competed in 5K races before, and thus the idea of a 5K run/2K walk in Sea Isle was created.



Debbie and Dustin Laricks hosted A Taste of Sea Isle at the Yacht Club of Sea Isle City in support of CHOP.     Peyton at the 2016 Run/Walk with a Raffle Basket.


“We have between 300 to 400 people who participate in the Peyton’s Promise 5K/2K now,” he says. “It’s a very, very emotional day for Debbie and me. And it’s amazing to see the turnout.”


Last year, even Peyton was able to run in the 5K race, which is a little more than three miles, an achievement that would have been impossible to imagine during the first few months of her life.


“I’ve known Dustin for about 20 years, before he was married and had children,” says Jay Von Czoernig, who has participated in the event since its inception, along with his family. “It’s a miracle from when Peyton was born to seeing her run in the 5K last year. When Peyton finished the race, everyone was choked up. Most people knew what was going on. She was a little nervous, but she did so well.”


“It’s a lot of fun, and it kicks off the summer,” he says, adding that the race has “a real family atmosphere … I’m not a runner, but I do this once a year, all for Dustin, Debbie and Peyton.”


“The foundation has grown and all the money has gone to Dr. Davey and the staff at CHOP,” Dustin says. In addition to the race, Peyton’s Promise also has an annual fundraiser at the Sea Isle City Yacht Club, which was held this year on March 10.


“The advancements Dr. Davey has made are unbelievable,” he continues. “We are forever grateful to the amazing CHOP doctors and nurses for taking such excellent care of our daughter. Peyton’s Promise is our chance to pay it forward. The outpouring of support from family, friends and our community has been incredible.”


Says Davey: “We couldn’t do all our work and research without the support from Debbie and Dustin and the money they raise through Peyton’s Promise, and we would like to thank them.”


For more information on the Peyton’s Promise foundation and the 5K run/2K walk, please see the Laricks’ website,



Debbie and Peyton Laricks at the 2017 Peyton’s Promise event.

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