September 13, 2017 8:00 am

Hospital staff throw 3-year-old with leukemia a birthday party during Hurricane Irma

WATCH: When Hurricane Irma threatened to cancel Willow's birthday plans, staff at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in Florida put together a birthday party for the three-year-old.


Willow Stine’s heroes don’t wear capes — they wear scrubs.

When the three-year-old Florida resident who was recently diagnosed with leukemia risked missing out on her birthday celebrations because of Hurricane Irma, the nurses and child life specialists at the hospital threw Willow a last-minute party.

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The toddler was diagnosed on Friday, two days before the hurricane hit and two days before her birthday, leaving her, her mother Jennifer and her grandfather, stranded at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. In addition, Willow’s father and sister were unable to travel from their home in Wesley Chapel due to the storm.

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“I was like, I don’t know how much more I can take,” Jennifer said to CNN. “My baby’s turning three and has cancer, and on top of that my four-year-old daughter and husband are an hour and a half away in a hurricane. I’m just trying to process all this.”

That’s when the hospital’s child life specialists and nurses sprang into action.

“We found out that Willow was going to have a birthday in the hospital, so we prepared for it,” Kelly Boyd, a child life specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, said to Global News. “Part of our role is to normalize kids’ lives when they’re in the hospital, and it’s really inconvenient for the parents for their child to have a birthday there.”

But the team was prepared. Along with the nurses in Willow’s unit, Boyd and her colleagues ordered a cake, got banners and decorations, and wrapped some gifts that are regularly donated by the community.

“I asked her grandfather what her interests were and he said she loved Frozen,” Boyd said.

In a video captured by the hospital, Willow can be seen dressed in a Little Mermaid-emblazoned dress, opening her gifts and dipping her fingers into the icing on her birthday cake.

“You could tell when we walked in that she was so excited,” Boyd recalled. “After every present she opened she would say, ‘I always wanted this.’ And she went for the cake as soon as we put it in front of her.”

Needless to say, Jennifer was moved by the efforts of hospital staff.

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“The nurses were amazing. They’re so wonderful,” she said to the news site. “She got to be a toddler again.”

Boyd says the best part of the day was watching the reaction on Jennifer’s face, which fluctuated between smiling and tearing up.

“The whole part about [doing something like this] is to allow Willow and her family to not focus on the diagnosis and celebrate the child. For the 10 minutes we were there, her diagnosis wasn’t present. It was just her being a three-year-old and everyone enjoying the moment.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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