WASHINGTON – It was supposed to be a routine visit to the Children’s National Medical Center for Nylah Pearl-Graham, age 3, and her mother Donyale Graham, of Silver Spring, Md. But Monday was different. Nylah saw first lady Michelle Obama.
“We happened to just be here for therapy and stumbled across it. We come here so often that we usually just skip the shows. But when they told me the first lady was here, we decided to participate,” Graham said.
“It was fun,” Nylah said. The girl, who has Down syndrome, is no stranger to the hospital. Nylah had open heart surgery there and is being treated for her heart condition. She giggled and hopped as she and her mom left the hospital.
The first lady toured the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, meeting with patients and their families, continuing a tradition started by Bess Truman, wife of President Harry Truman.
For David Wessel, the hospital’s executive vice president and chief medical officer, the event brings joy to those who will be spending the holidays at the center.
“It’s such a delight to our patients and their families, particularly those who aren’t able to celebrate the holidays at home, to have Mrs. Obama visit them and spread the holiday cheer,” Wessel said.
Many of these children are hospitalized for long periods as they are being treated for cancer and blood diseases such as sickle cell disease. Some have also recently received bone marrow transplants.
Obama, who walked into the main atrium with first dogs Bo and Sunny, was accompanied by patients Stephen Orzechchowski, 5, a patient from Washington, and Luna Ferra, 11, a patient from Washington being treated for injuries after a serious car accident.
Obama, with Stephen on her right and Bo on her left, read the classic “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” before a fun Q&A with the children.
The holiday cheer brought along a very specific set of questions from a crowd eager for Christmas. The crowd was curious about Christmas gifts, in particular those she will give to the president, their daughters, Shasha and Malia, and Bo and Sunny.
Obama jokingly warned the press not to spill the beans. This year, as every other year, she will give him “workout stuff.”
As for Bo and Sunny, who have “been very good this year,” Obama said they can expect a lot of new toys and treats.
One young girl drew the first lady’s attention by asking a simple question: “Can you help me get into Harvard?”
Both Obamas have law degrees from Harvard.
“You’ve got to study hard. You’ve got to read a lot of books. You have to do your homework every day,” Obama said.
The event concluded with the Amours, a D.C. duo of sisters, singing the traditional “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with the help of a Just Rock Enterprises choir. Some children danced to the beats of 13-year-old DJ Beauty and the Beatz while others participated in magic tricks by Reggie Rice, aka Super Magic Man.
Reach reporter Kelvin Suddason at [email protected] or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Download photo: Obama-hospital