Before COVID, one of 5-year-old Delany Henry’s favorite pastimes was going to Jake’s Place Playground in Cherry Hill, an inclusive recreation area built with children who have disabilities in mind.
It was a particular favorite for the township youngster, who has battled a tumor on her spinal cord since she was 2. But when the pandemic hit, her family decided to hunker down to limit Henry’s exposure risk. Missing the playground, and with her previous wish to go to Disney World on hold due to the pandemic, Make-A-Wish New Jersey granted the girl’s wish to have a playground of her own in the backyard of her home this summer.
Henry’s mother, Nicole Mood, said shortly after her daughter’s second birthday, she began scratching herself to the point of bleeding. When more complications followed, the family’s doctor ordered an MRI, which showed a tumor on Henry’s spinal cord that was so large, the doctor was unsure how she was breathing, let alone walking.
Henry had emergency surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia the next day. While her doctors initially thought she had a slow-growing tumor, they subsequently learned that wasn’t the case when the tumor grew back in six months, requiring Henry to undergo a second surgery in January 2019.
About a month later, Henry started chemotherapy treatment, but three months in, she had an allergic reaction to the medication. Doctors tried switching her to a different medication, but that one failed as well.
So in August of that same year, Henry had yet another surgery, at which point the doctors discovered the tumor was intertwined with her spinal cord to the point that physicians could no longer tell the difference between the tumor and her spinal cord.
Henry subsequently lost use of her left hand, experiencing paralysis similar to that of a stroke victim. After the third surgery, Henry’s family was advised that radiation was the best course of action.
In September 2019, the girl received her first round of radiation. By the time she reached her fourth birthday, Henry had undergone 25 rounds of the treatment.
Mood said watching her be sedated each day for treatment was the most difficult part of her daughter’s battle. But seeing Henry keep her spirits up, get up and go to treatment each day, gave her mother the strength to keep moving forward, too.
“She inspired me every day to get up,” Mood said of that difficult time.
After Henry’s radiation, Mood connected with Make-A-Wish New Jersey, hoping to fulfill her daughter’s wish to go to Disney World. But COVID hit, and out of an abundance of caution, the foundation postponed granting any wishes that involved travel or large gatherings. The girl’s family was given the option of waiting or pursuing another wish.
With the family hunkering down at home, Henry missed going to the playground. So, her family asked Make-A-Wish to bring the playground to her — and it did.
Henry went back and forth with the foundation designing what she wanted, and then one morning in May, the playset arrived at her home. Mood said her daughter was thrilled and eagerly went outside to watch the set get assembled.
The equipment was designed with Henry’s abilities in mind and features a railing for her to hold on to when she climbs the steps. She is missing one vertebrae in her neck and has neck stability issues, a factor in the swing’s design.
While she is not fully in remission, Henry’s doctors have said she’s stable, and her scans are now every six months. She heads to CHOP twice a week for occupational, physical and aquatic therapy, and the family hopes she’ll gain back some of the strength she lost.
Mood said beyond the playset itself, when she looks out and sees Henry’s siblings pushing her on the swing, she wells up with emotion.
“It’s really brought them together again,” she said.