Judah was 5 when the sharp pain in his foot began. It got worse during a summer trip to upstate New York with his family. He didn’t want to swim or even walk. Judah’s parents brought him to a local ER. Much to their shock, doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. Swelling bone marrow had caused the pain in his foot.

The family drove home to Washington, D.C. through the night. They went straight to Children’s National Hospital, where Judah’s dad works a doctor. Judah was hospitalized for 3 weeks. “Kids might think hospitals are scary,” he says, “But not Children’s National.” Despite being sick, Judah had fun. He traded jokes with staff, pranked members of our clown care team and sent silly messages to the pharmacy through the 4th floor’s pneumatic tube. Pharmacists often drew pictures and sent them back.

“The staff was very warm and empathetic to our predicament,” says Judah’s mom, Mara. “They cared about my kid like I did. They also seemed to understand what I was going through as a parent and always asked how I was doing.” She recalls the soothing sound of a music therapist playing cello in the hall.

After Judah’s hospitalization, he began intensive outpatient chemotherapy, losing his hair and eyebrows in the process. Art therapist Heather Stemas painted a fierce, fire-breathing dragon on his head to celebrate when he was finished. “A lot of good things happen at Children’s National,” says Judah, now 13, “like, enabling me to be alive. I can ride a bike, I can swim. I can do anything thanks to them.”

A young patient at Children's National Hospital.

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A young patient at Children's National Hospital.