Hospital throws holiday party for young patients

More than 300 people — kids with cancer or sickle cell disease and their families — celebrated the holidays at UIC Nov. 17. The event, which was hosted by the pediatric hematology/oncology department of the Children’s Hospital University of Illinois, included a Thanksgiving-inspired meal, holiday crafts, dancing and a gift exchange.

“Today is not about being a doctor or a patient,” said Dr. Mary Lou Schmidt, professor of pediatrics and head of pediatric hematology and oncology. “It’s about having fun.”

Volunteers from the Girl Scouts, A Silver Lining, Bear Necessities and others helped kids use paint, paper, beads and a host of other materials to make holiday crafts. Students from the UIC College of Dentistry dressed up as tooth fairies and as “Mr. Molar,” encouraging kids to practice good brushing habits with a novelty-sized toothbrush and stuffed animals. Dunkin’ Donuts provided supplies so kids could decorate their donuts, and eat their dessert before lunch if desired. The Joffrey Ballet’s Exelon Strobel Dancers danced for and with attendees, young and old.

For Kelly, mom of an 18-month-old with leukemia, the event was also a celebration of her daughter’s progress.

“Kathryn was diagnosed one year ago today,” she said. “At this time last year, we were in the hospital. To see her running around today, healthy, means everything.”

The event was also meaningful to Kelly because two of Kathryn’s three siblings were also there, along with their dad and Kelly’s husband, Dan.

“We’ve had to spend so much time apart,” said Kelly, who spent more than 190 days in the hospital last year with her daughter. “Finding time to be together means everything.”

Schmidt says the event is about relationships and celebration.

“Cancer or sickle cell and a number of other conditions have touched everyone in this room, but we have so much to celebrate,” she said. “We have so many wonderful stories to tell.”

Javontae, 24, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, attended the event with his mom, sister, friend and a few cousins.

“I love being here with my family,” said Javontae, who has been in remission for eight years. He said that while most of the activities are for younger kids, he still has a good time, especially with his younger family members.

Supporting the event were more than 50 UIC volunteers, primarily from the College of Medicine, and 10 organizations, including Flashes of Hope, Gilda’s Club, Holiday Heroes, Ladies Philoptochos Society and North Star Reach.

Photos: Fan Wang