Routine Check-up Turned Birthday Surprise

Posted on Sep 13, 2019

Behind a door adorned with blue and purple streamers, a party awaits for Willow.

“I know what this is. It’s confetti,” shouts Willow. “I like throwing confetti!”

The staff at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s outpatient center in Tampa decorated an exam room with signs, cards and presents, and gather around to sing Happy Birthday. The small touches are a big help as Willow spends her fifth birthday at the clinic getting chemotherapy treatment.

“The love and attention showered on Willow by her nurses, Child Life specialist and social worker today were so very appreciated,” says Willow’s mom, Jennifer.

Willow's birthday always brings back memories of her diagnosis, which her mom says, can make the day feel quite heavy. Two days before her third birthday and the landfall of Hurricane Irma on Florida’s west coast, Willow was diagnosed with pre-b cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her story gained national attention, and Willow has been a superstar patient at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute ever since.

“Willow is always a smiling face that we’re happy to see in clinic, and she’s always so brave during procedures,” says Leah Maloney, Child Life specialist at Outpatient Care, Tampa. “No child, or parent for that matter, wants to spend their special day receiving treatment or checking blood counts. The best we can do in these cases is to normalize the environment as much as we can and celebrate along with them. Seeing the smile on Willow’s face when she saw her decorations and knowing that we were able to be a part of her special day are just a couple of the reasons that we love what we do here.”

While Willow focuses on blowing out five birthday candles, her family looks forward to seeing her ringing the bell in November, signifying the end of her cancer treatment.    

“With this being her last birthday in treatment, we certainly have a lot to celebrate,” Jennifer says. “I know that 5 will be Willow’s best year yet!”


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