Two days before her third birthday and the landfall of major hurricane on Florida’s west coast, little Willow was diagnosed with leukemia at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“I'm just trying to process all this,” says Willow’s mother, Jennifer. "My baby's turning 3 and has cancer, and on top of that my 4-year old daughter and husband are an hour and a half away in a hurricane.”
As the family from Wesley Chapel received some of the most stressful news of their lives during an unnerving weather event, the hospital’s Child Life Department was ready to do what it does best–create a sense of normalcy during a hospitalization.
“As a child life specialist, I feel grateful to be a part of a family’s life, no matter how big or small,” Kelly Boyd says. “If we can just change little moments throughout the day, then that’s something rewarding and worth doing.”
For this particular little moment on a hurricane-stricken Sunday, it was all hands on deck to give Willow a very special birthday. This included help from some of the nurses in the Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute at the hospital.
“From the moment we found out Willow was going to be celebrating a birthday during an already difficult time, we knew we had to make it special,” says Cassie Schimmoeller, a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. “I was able to decorate the cake, which was so much fun.”
“I had gone to her room that morning when she was sleeping and heard that she really enjoyed Frozen,” Boyd explains. “So we thought it would be fun to go with the theme of Frozen by getting fun toys.”
With a festive cake and toys in tow from a stash of generous donations given to the Child Life Department, staff came to Willow’s room singing Happy Birthday.
"The nurses and child life specialists were amazing. They're so wonderful," says Willow’s mother. "She got to be a toddler again."
“It was so special to see Mom so emotional,” Kaytea Revels, R.N., says. “It was so rewarding to see what impact we could make in just doing something small. A hurricane and a new leukemia diagnosis is such a challenging time, and we were honored to be there to make the day just a little better.
While Willow and her family have a difficult road ahead, Boyd says she hopes her birthday was just the start of a strong relationship as the 3-year-old undergoes treatment.
“It helps build rapport with them,” Boyd says. “We want them to know they can trust us and they have someone on their team and on their side during this journey.”
The Child Life team makes every effort to celebrate each and every patient who is celebrating their birthday while being hospitalized.
Visit hopkinsallchildrens.org/services/child-life for more information about the Child Life Department at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.