As a group of onlookers watched and counted down, 12-year-old Nolan Stewart flipped the large switch on top of a parking garage at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
Instantly, Christmas lights strung across the maple, ash and sycamore trees in Cowley Park lit up in unison. For the first time in the hospital’s history, hospitalized children could look out their windows and see Christmas trees, much like those at home.
Lily Duran sat huddled near the window of her hospital room, clutching an electric candle as she stared out into the park. The 3-year-old pointed out the colors on the trees, making sure to pay extra attention to her favorite color, green.
“Momma, look it’s a truck,” she said, tugging on Allyson Duran’s arm.
Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Oct. 13, Lily has spent the past two months in and out of the hospital, sometimes undergoing multiple sessions of chemotherapy a day. Soon, she’ll need a bone marrow transplant when a donor can be found. Her siblings weren’t a match.
She’ll have to spend at least the next three weeks in the hospital before her immune system is strong enough to brave all of the germs in the outside world. In the meantime, that means missing out on her fourth birthday and Christmas spent at home, in front of her own Christmas tree.
Her mother will be right there next to her, missing the holidays otherwise spent with her husband and two other children.
“Everything has just stopped,” Duran said. “It’s now all about her.”
The week before Thanksgiving, the KXLY Extreme Team – along with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, community volunteers, and lineman and trucks from Avista – decked out the trees in Cowley Park.
From 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. each night until the first week of January, the trees will light up for the children. Thursday night’s ceremony was the first.
Next, buildings across downtown Spokane will put up pictures or art so the kids can play an “I spy” game from their hospital room with a pair of binoculars.
“There are a lot of kids in that hospital that won’t be home for the holidays,” said Nicole Stewart, Nolan Stewart’s mother. “These lights represent a lot of things. They represent hope.”
Attending the lighting ceremony were dozens of hospital workers and their children who came to watch the trees in Cowley Park light up for the first time in the park’s 100-year history.
The children in the Pediatric Oncology Center were given plastic candles, exactly like the one Lily was holding, so the onlookers on top of the parking garage could spot them and know they’re looking.
Lily was one of those lookers, but only for a moment. She quickly traded the candle and the view of the park for her mother’s phone playing a cartoon show on Netflix.
While her mother struggles with the reality of having a child go through cancer treatment, she said the tree lights are the closest thing to a normal holiday she could ask for.
“She’s just excited to see them,” she said. “She’s really going to enjoy it.”