The Washington Post

Thanksgiving at Children’s National: Giving thanks for the gift of life

Sisters Caitlin and Brooke Rosenberg of Winchester at the Race for Every Child 5K in October. (Courtesy of Children's National Health System)

I don’t think any parent ever takes a healthy child for granted. If you have a son or daughter who has so far escaped those awful worries that seem to visit you unbidden — the accident, the tumor, the infection — you routinely say a silent prayer of thanks.

In other words, for the parents of healthy children, every day is Thanksgiving. And for the parents of sick children?

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Chris Rosenberg spent 2010’s Thanksgiving at Children’s National with his then 2-year-old daughter, Brooke. Ten days earlier, Brooke had received a bone marrow transplant from her older sister, Caitlin, then 5. Doctors hoped it would cure Brooke’s leukemia.

Caitlin’s marrow was a 100 percent match, and despite six months spent in the hospital over the course of her treatment, Brooke was cured. Caitlin had given her sister a gift few siblings experience. “She’s definitely aware that Brooke’s life was saved and that she played a huge part in that,” Chris said. “And she’s very proud of that.”

This Thanksgiving will be spent far from the hospital, surrounded by family, including mom Heather, in their Winchester, Va., home

“Thanksgiving is going to be just incredible,” Chris said. “Every milestone is so much sweeter because when you hear that your child has cancer, they don’t physically die, but in your mind and in your fears they do. They’ve just taken your child away from you. You just don’t know when it will happen. Every holiday is one we didn’t think we were going to have. We just cherish it so much, even Brooke. Though she doesn’t remember it, she lives every moment, every holiday, like it’s a gift.”

A hospital holiday

“We try to make it as special as we can,” Rose Szeles, director of nursing in the hematology/oncology and bone marrow transplant department at Children’s National, said of holidays in the hospital.

“When you care for these patients and families. you not only physically care for them, you really begin to care for them emotionally,” Rose said.

It’s a bond that goes both ways. Patients value the special attention they’re given on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, but the nurses value it, too.

“Even though you’d think it would be disappointing to be here on a holiday, it’s really rewarding to witness that sharing. Until you’ve worked a holiday you really can’t explain how it feels,” Rose said.

Rose has been a nurse for 30 years. She won’t be working this Thanksgiving. Her three grown children will be coming home for dinner.

Her daughter Hilary is a nurse at Children’s, too. She’s scheduled to work on Christmas.

“We’ll celebrate Christmas the week after,” Rose said. “For me and for my family, it’s about us being together. It’s not the day of the week, it’s the spirit of the celebration.”

All together now

When it comes to making a donation, here are a few ideas:

Group hug. Why not encourage your workmates or neighbors to pool their money and make a donation? Stick a jar in the break room, inviting coworkers to toss in their change. When your group donates I’ll give you a shout-out in my column.

Present company. Is there someone you dread shopping for every holiday season just because they already have it all? Make a donation in their honor to Children’s National and I’ll send them a letter informing them of your thoughtfulness.

Remember, every little bit helps. That’s doubly true this year because of a matching grant generously offered by Bill and Joanne Conway. They will match, dollar for dollar, all gifts to The Washington Post Campaign for Children’s National, up to a total of $150,000, made by Dec. 31.

To make your tax-deductible donation, visit
or send a check (payable to “Children’s National”) to Washington Post Giving Campaign, c/o Children’s Hospital Foundation, 801 Roeder Rd., Suite 650, Silver Spring, Md. 20910. Our deadline is Jan. 10.

Your gift today can make a difference in the life of a child.

Ear, ear

Arlington’s Karen Cogswell said my recent column about my paternal fretting over my daughter’s ear piercing brought back one of her favorite “Dad” stories. “My sister and I could not get our ears pierced until we were 16 — and he stuck to his guns on that one,” Karen wrote.

“Over dinner on the day I’d had mine done (by a neighbor Mom who was a nurse and used a hot needle — ouch!), I asked why we had to wait until that particular age. My Dad calmly answered ‘Because until you were 16 they were our ears.’

“I loved him even more for that perspective. He died shortly after I turned 19, so I don’t have many fond memories to add to this one, but it is so special. Thanks for bringing it back to me.”


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