A 9-year-old Hilliard girl known for helping other children cope with disabilities was one of 10 Patient Champions honored Aug. 16 at the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington.
"I never saw a race before and I had fun," said Tarissa Suchecki. "The cars go so fast."
Each of the Nationwide Children's Hospital Patient Champions were paired with a NASCAR Nationwide Series driver.
Tarissa was matched with driver James Buescher, whose No. 99 Toyota Care/Rheem Camry had Tarissa's picture on the rear deck of the car as he drove to a 25th-place finish on the road course.
Tarissa's name, rather than Buescher's, was stenciled above the doors of the race car.
Tarissa joined the 24-year-old driver from Texas on stage during driver introductions and watched the race with Buescher's crew chief and team from pit row.
"We had a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience," said her mother, Teresa Suchecki, who adopted Tarissa and her twin brother, Brandon.
Suchecki has three sons, ages 22 to 27, with her former husband, Michael.
After her sons were pre-teens, and desiring a daughter, Suchecki said, she and her family became foster parents for Franklin County Children Services.
The family fostered 10 children until Suchecki received a call about Tarissa and Brandon, who were going to be in the custody of Children Services until a permanent foster family was found.
Suchecki decided to adopt them.
Tarissa was born at 32 weeks and has short-bowel syndrome and bilateral hearing loss.
Short-bowel syndrome is a medical condition in which nutrients cannot be absorbed properly because part of the small intestine is missing or has been removed.
Tarissa has gastroenterology checkups every three months at Nationwide Children's Hospital and earlier this month, she had surgery to remove 3 more inches from her intestinal tract.
Tarissa is also a patient at the hospital's hearing clinic.
She began to experience hearing loss when she was 3 years old, possibly related to the antibiotics and other medications administered for short-bowel syndrome, Suchecki said.
"She can read lips and uses sign language," Suchecki said.
Tarissa helps other children cope and overcome similar disabilities and conditions. That was part of the reason she was selected as a Patient Champion, Suchecki said.
Tarissa also recently was crowned as the Pure American National "Little Miss" in a Pure American Pageant, which is designed to promote the values of good self-esteem and self-confidence in women and girls of all ages, according to the organization's website.
Tarissa travels mostly in Ohio but plans to visit Michigan and Texas later this year. She is required to make 10 appearances representing Pure American.
"I like fashion and I like to sing and dance," said Tarissa, who says Taylor Swift is a favorite performer.
Tarissa attends Windermere Elementary School in Upper Arlington.
"I tell other kids that no matter what your difference, you can do whatever you want," she said.
Buescher said he enjoyed the experience of the Patient Champions' program. It is the second year Nationwide Children's Hospital has presented the program at the NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Mid-Ohio.
"I think she had a good time out here," Buescher said. "She was in tears when she saw her race car, pink and purple and with her picture on the deck lid.
"It's a great program Nationwide Children's Hospital puts on for this race and for patient champions to come out and be a part of this weekend."
Niki Shafer, vice president of annual giving for Nationwide Children's Hospital, said the Patient Champions program is designed to connect the hospital-sponsored events with a cause.
The program was established three years ago. The hospital receives open nominations and select patients based on their interests, naming them as a champion of various signature events Children's Hospital sponsors, including the Columbus Marathon, PGA Tour events and NASCAR.
"It connects our events with a cause and the care our patients receive," Shafer said.
Other local Patient Champions recognized Aug. 16 at Mid-Ohio included:
• Blake Hames, 5, of Westerville
• Sydney Huber, 10, of Canal Winchester
• Dalton Miller, 9, of Newark
• Avery Neely, 3, of Lewis Center
• Blaine Snodgrass, 2, of Lewis Center
• Sean Tibbs, 10, of Blacklick
• Reid Zupanc, 7, of Delaware