Dar­ren’s Pack do­nates play­house to hos­pi­tal

Plus game sys­tems for on­col­ogy unit

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

WILM­ING­TON, DEL. — Dar­ren Leonard and his par­ents Lau­ren and Der­rick are no strangers to the on­col­ogy de­part­ment at Ne­mours A.I. duPont Hos­pi­tal for Chil­dren due to a brain tu­mor that Dar­ren was di­ag­nosed with as an in­fant, but the Leonards have taken their di­ag­no­sis as an op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote aware­ness of child­hood cancer and sup­port oth­ers who are on the same difficult jour­ney.

In Septem­ber 2015, Lau­ren Leonard, founder of Dar­ren’s Pack, a group ded­i­cated to of­fer­ing sup­port to Dar­ren and his friends, cre­ated a Su­per Hero Walk and Fam­ily Fun Day to raise funds for a cus­tom Lil­liput play­house for the out­pa­tient on­col­ogy cen­ter at Ne­mours.

With the funds raised from the Su­per Hero Walk and two other fundrais­ers, a 100-mile ride from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay to Ocean City, com­pleted by Der­rick Leonard, and a raf­fle, Dar­ren’s Pack raised $18,000 to­tal. Dar­ren’s Pack pre­sented a check for $15,000 for the play­house pro­ject to Ne­mours on March 30. The play­house is be­ing cus­tom built to meet the spe­cific needs of

Ne­mours’ pa­tients and will be worked into the de­sign of a new out­pa­tient on­col­ogy clinic sched­uled to open in 2017.

“We just want to say thank you to ev­ery­one who has ral­lied around us from the very sec­ond that we dreamed up build­ing a play home at the hos­pi­tal. From those who sup­ported Der­rick rid­ing over 100 miles on his bi­cy­cle in eight hours, to the very last spon­sor who gra­ciously came for­ward to help with our big Xbox pro­ject just a few weeks ago,” Leonard said.

“We’re so blessed to live in Queen Anne’s County, and be sur­rounded by peo­ple who are com­pas­sion­ate, giv­ing, kind, and are al­ways will­ing and ready to help a neigh­bor.”

She said she cre­ated the “Dar­ren’s Pack” Face­book page to up­date friends and fam­ily on Dar­ren’s jour­ney with child­hood cancer, but it has turned into much more.

“We’re ex­cited that we’ll soon be at the draw­ing board with Ne­mours and Lil­liput Play Homes to help de­sign the play home that we raised money for at our Su­per Hero Fam­ily Fun Day,” said Leonard, “The play home will give kids some­thing fun to do when they come for treat­ment. We can’t wait!”

With some ex­tra funds left over af­ter the play­house, the Leonards were dis­cussing with the hos­pi­tal the great­est needs specif­i­cally re­lat­ing to the on­col­ogy de­part­ment. It was men­tioned that gam­ing sys­tems were re­ally needed to help keep the pa­tients, es­pe­cially older chil­dren, oc­cu­pied dur­ing their in­pa­tient stays. The on­col­ogy de­part­ment at Ne­mours has 24 rooms and be­cause of de­creased im­mu­nity lev­els most of­ten pa­tients are not al­lowed in com­mon ar­eas.

Leonard dis­cov­ered the sys­tems were $300 each, and with the funds re­main­ing from the play­house pro­ject, they were able to pur­chase eight Xbox game sys­tems. How­ever, eight wasn’t enough when Leonard knew they had 24 rooms to fill.

“We are very blessed to live in a small town that has been ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble through our al­most seven year cancer jour­ney with Dar­ren. They’re al­ways ready to help, and we knew that to­gether, with our Dar­ren’s Pack com­mu­nity, we could ful­fill the 24 Xbox One sys­tems,” said Leonard.

To­gether with spon­sor­ships from 16 fam­i­lies, groups, in­di­vid­u­als and busi­ness own­ers the re­main­ing sys­tems were pur­chased and de­liv­ered to the on­col­ogy de­part­ment.

We’ve been within the walls of this hos­pi­tal, and we know that it feels far from home, said Leonard.

When the hos­pi­tal men­tioned their re­quest, Leonard re­called a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion from their days as an in­pa­tient.

“Two sweet boys, Sammy and Noxah, were both fight­ing Leukemia and in the rooms next door to ours when Dar­ren was di­ag­nosed at 9 weeks old. Noxah had an Xbox, and was able to play live with his friends back home, but Sammy did not,” she said. “When their counts were good, they could sit in Noxah’s room and play to­gether, but when their im­mune sys­tems were low, they weren’t al­lowed to do that.

“One evening, while in the kitchen of the unit, we couldn’t help but over­hear Sammy beg­ging his mom for an Xbox of his own. My hus­band didn’t miss a beat walk­ing out of the hos­pi­tal to go buy an Xbox soon af­ter. Sammy was so sick from his chemo that evening, but the smile that came across his face when we sur­prised him with his own Xbox is for­ever in­grained in our hearts.”

The 16 Xbox One Sys­tems needed to com­plete the 24-room pro­ject were pre­sented to the hos­pi­tal on June 3.

While Dar­ren is not cancer free, his brain tu­mor is sta­ble, which al­lows him to be off treat­ment, and live life as a “nor­mal” 6-year-old.

She said, “Dar­ren will be seven years di­ag­nosed in Oc­to­ber, and we’re cel­e­brat­ing ‘nor­mal’ right now while he’s off of chemo. His brain tu­mor is deep in his brain, so we only go into ac­tive treat­ment when his tu­mors are show­ing growth or pro­gres­sion.”

The Leonards said they are thank­ful to have such an in­cred­i­ble hos­pi­tal car­ing for their son, and they will con­tinue to do what they can to make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of fam­i­lies.

Leonard said she is look­ing for­ward to de­vel­op­ing their next pro­ject with Ne­mours.

“To make a dif­fer­ence in some­one’s world, you don’t have to be amaz­ing, rich, tal­ented, beau­ti­ful or per­fect. You just have to be you and care,” she said.

“We want to say thank you to the many who have sup­ported our fam­ily through this (al­most 7 year) jour­ney. While we know that life with cancer is far from over, we know that no mat­ter what, ev­ery­one has our back. A feel­ing that takes worry away, and that’s all thanks to the small town feel that Queen Anne’s County em­bod­ies!”

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTOS

Dar­ren and a friend help de­liver the X-box One game sys­tems to Ne­mours in Wilm­ing­ton.

2015 Su­per Hero Fam­ily Fun Day and Walk, Dar­ren as Su­per­man with dad, Der­rick Leonard, his mom, Lau­ren Leonard and lit­tle sis­ters.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Dar­ren Leonard and dad, Der­rick Leonard, at the Ocean City in­let. Der­rick biked from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay to raise money to sup­port the fundraiser for a play­house for Ne­mours pa­tients.

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