Penelope Deignan and her hot cocoa standPenelope Deignan is a charming and funny 6-year-old whose mom, Kelly, describes as a swimmer and an artist. To those who don’t know her, Penelope an average first grader who has a scar on the front of her neck. To some, a scar may be something one tries to cover up or hide, but to Penelope, the scar is a part of her story.

Penelope’s Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare experience began when she was successfully treated at Gillette as an infant because of hip dysplasia. She experienced no further health issues until, while at cheerleading camp last August, Penelope began having neck pain and returned to Gillette for treatment. She was soon diagnosed with Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), a rare condition that occurs when the body accumulates too many immature Langerhans cells, a type of white blood cell that normally helps the body fight infection.  When too many of these blood cells build up and accumulate, they can form tumors or damage internal organs.  In Penelope’s case, LCH had caused a tumor in the C5 vertebrae of her spinal column—causing pain in her neck.

 After the diagnosis, the plan was to treat the tumor with chemotherapy. But just before the treatment was to begin, the tumor unexpectedly collapsed. Penelope spent a week in Gillette’s orthopedic unit while doctors managed her pain. During this time, her tumor collapsed once again, causing additional complications. That’s when pediatric neurosurgeon Patrick Graupman, M.D., performed a spinal fusion surgery in September, 2013 to prevent permanent damage to her spinal column.Penelope Deignan - swimming

Despite everything Penelope went through, she wasted no time springing back into action. Just three months after her surgery, today Penelope is back in the pool and back in school.  However, Gillette was never far from Penelope’s mind after her stay ended.  “She loved her experience at Gillette,” Kelly explains.  “She wanted to go back after she came home from the hospital! It was a really big experience for her--but a great one.”

Soon after Penelope came home from the hospital, she began drawing comics about animals going to Gillette for care. It didn’t take long until Penelope’s friends started asking for her comics. Instead of giving them away, Penelope decided to have a hot cocoa stand outside of their house, selling hot cocoa and comics to raise money for Gillette. So one chilly day, she bundled up, set up her stand and, in total, and raised $15! She donated every penny to Gillette.Penelope Deignan after surgery

“I’ve come to appreciate the caring staff and how they helped Penelope feel really good about herself,” says Kelly. “They always gave her confidence that she’d get better.” Kelly adds, “I think it says a lot that Penelope wants to go back to Gillette and become a surgeon like Dr. Graupman.” Until Penelope can reach her goal of being a surgeon, she’s planning even more hot cocoa and comic sales to continue giving back.  

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