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Love and Light in the Bunny Mellon Healing Garden

By Kala, a Children’s National parent
Gabriella with flowers resized

My daughter Gabriella was strong, beautiful and happy. She could make anyone laugh, even though she lived most of her life in the hospital. She was born with little or no immune system and diagnosed with severe congenital neutropenia. This means she had too few neutrophils, types of white blood cells that help the body fight infection. Gabriella had two bone marrow transplants at Children’s National before she was 5 years old.

A year after her second transplant, she had chronic respiratory failure. She was so sick we thought we were going to lose her. Doctors and staff at Children’s National worked miracles to keep her with us. She came home the day before Christmas with a full-time ventilator. By July, we were back in the hospital every few days. The pediatric intensive care unit team advocated hard for Gabriella ― and for us ― during her last admission, but there was nothing else they could do.

Gabriella loved us so much. Her father, Alfredo, and I had always wanted to get married with all three of our children at our side. I asked one of our nurse practitioners, Emily Abbey, if a hospital chaplain would marry us. What the staff did for us after that wasn’t just a ceremony, it was a dream.

Emily found dresses for Gabriella and her younger sister, Madalynn. Nurses decorated the Bunny Mellon Healing Garden. Someone had a beautiful sign made for our wedding. Others ordered the most amazing food and a stunning wedding cake. They provided a photographer. The wife of one of our doctors made cupcakes. A nurse helped me make a playlist of our favorite Disney movie songs.

More than a year later, I still think about my wedding every day. It made Gabriella so happy. During that time in the Healing Garden, you could feel the love in the air. We didn’t think about what might happen. We just danced and felt happy being together. It was magical. The look on Gabriella’s face that day was the reason for it all. It was also the last time we were all together.Gabriella passed away not long after. Dr. Dinesh Pillai, her pulmonologist, reminded me that I had dedicated my life to her, and that it was OK to focus on my other children now. I don’t think I would have been able to go on if he hadn’t said those words. From our first consultation to the day Gabriella died, the people at Children’s National took care of my entire family. We will be grateful forever.