Saving their lives and their childhoods: Miracle families celebrate unique Hurley program

FLINT, Michigan—In the background, children are running and laughing on the lawn as oversized wands produce huge bubbles that float in the air until being chased down and burst by a young finger or sometimes drifting onto an unsuspecting head. But, 3-year-old Hadlee’s thoughts are elsewhere. Her face is becoming a palette of painted color. She offers a slight smile as her mother Danielle Deines comments on the new look.

It’s a happy day for these children. There are treats and balloons, games and music—picnic stuff meant to be enjoyed.

It’s a happy day for these parents, too, but it’s a different kind of happy as they watch their children play and laugh at the annual “Miracle Picnic” on July 25 hosted by Hurley Children’s Hospital.

Theirs is the kind of happy that comes only after traveling a long road, finding a happy end and joyfully seeing the much longer road ahead.

Hadlee Deines, 3, poses for a selfie with a Hurley nurse at the 8th Annual Miracle Picnic at the Sloan Museum on Tuesday. For Chris and Danielle Deines of Durand, their long road started with Hadlee’s persistent fever 16 months ago. The diagnosis was one of a parent’s worst fears. Cancer. Leukemia to be precise, the leading form of pediatric cancer.

The family chose Hurley Children’s Hospital to care for Hadlee, in part because of the proximity to home. “I wouldn’t change it for anything,” says Danielle Deines. “We showed up in an ambulance and went right up to ICU. There, they had the room set up for a princess,” she says, of the royal decor created by Hurley Children’s Hospital’s Child Life Services. “We knew when we walked in we had made the right choice coming to Hurley, and since then, they’ve been nothing but spectacular.”

Hadlee celebrated her third birthday at Hurley while undergoing treatment. While that might seem less than ideal to most children and parents—for Hadlee, it was perfect. Danielle Deines remembers Hadlee’s words: “‘Mom, I get to spend my birthday with my whole family.’

“Because she looks at the peds (pediatric) nurses as her family. She looks at Child Life (Services) as she would a friend.”

Hadlee’s cancer was caught early and she is now in complete remission. “Here we are in July of 2017 and looking at a happy, healthy, soon to be 4-year-old girl,” Deines says.

The picnic held in the center courtyard at Sloan Museum in Flint is the eighth annual celebration of life and of the services provided by Child Life Services at Hurley Hospital that make living with treatment a bit more bearable for children.

Child Life Services is funded through the Children’s Miracle Network and other donors.

“We help children cope,” says Laura Parcels, director of Child Life Services at Hurley Children’s Hospital. “The hospital can be a very scary experience for children. The event that brought them into the hospital can be very traumatic. We try to normalize their experience by offering them toys, coloring books, videos, or something to distract them from the environment they are in.”

Child Life Services has operated at Hurley for about 40 years, although sometimes under a different name. They have six specialists—who last month saw 1,259 patients.

“When you can tell a child what is going to happen, show them the pictures, let them feel the equipment, they are not as scared and they become more compliant for the medical staff,” says Parcels. “They are in and out of the hospital a little bit quicker.”

Former MSU basketball standout and Flintstone Morris Peterson plays with his son Morris III (left) and daughter Aleena at the 8th Annual Miracle Picnic at the Sloan Museum on Tuesday. Their work is in high demand by families, but it is not a service that insurance pays for. “That’s why funding is so important to us,” she says. “That’s why these donations and these fundraisers are so huge for us. It keeps us at Hurley.”

Hurley is the only hospital in Genesee County and among only a few in the state with Child Life Services specialists on staff.

“We are grateful to Hurley that they allow us to be here, that they encourage our services and they understand,” says Parcels. “We are a city hospital and finances for a city hospital are going to be a little tight—but they still find a way.”

Will Morgan III is on his way to mastering the bubble wand producing bubbles that seem to envelop his body as he waves the wand at just the right pace. When he was 3-years-old, he began to complain of leg pain. He was diagnosed with leukemia on April 21, 2014.

“Prior to diagnosis I would never have known what Child Life Services does. The experience we had is a great one. It's not like they do it because it’s their job, they do it because they love to do it,” says Will’s mother Ebony Marshall of Flint Township.

Will’s last treatment is next month on August 15. “It will be a complete healing,” says Marshall. “He is mama’s little home body. He loves to be at home.”

A complete physical healing. And more. Thanks to Child Life Services.

As one mother told Parcels: “The medical staff at Hurley saved my son’s life, but Child Life Services saved his spirit.”

For more information on Hurley Children’s Hospital and Child Life Services, you can visit

Read more articles by Bruce Edwards.