Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Caring jesters
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ashley Wingo walked into the hospital as a patient today but was soon turned into a giggling “pineapple head.”

Brian McNelis painting the face of Lake Hopatcong's Ashley Wingo, 6, to look like a pineapple.

At least that’s what Ashlee, 6, looked like when Brian McNelis finished painting her face yellow, green and orange during a Carnival Day for pediatric patients at Hackensack University Medical Center.

McNelis was one of several entertainers at the event sponsored by the Hope for Henry Foundation of Washington, D.C. Dozens of children were treated to games, juggling, candy and magic tricks, at the Don Imus WFAN Pediatric Center for Tomorrows Children and the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack.

“You look beautiful,” McNelis told the chuckling child, who has leukemia.

The foundation was established in honor of Henry Strongin Goldberg, a Washington boy who died in 2003 at age 7 after a lifelong battle with Fanconi anemia, a rare inherited failure of the bone marrow. Henry made many trips to Hackensack for treatment, said his mother, Lauri Strongin.

Sarah Wingo, 9, of Lake Hopatcong, helping out Josh Edelman during his juggling act.

“Hackensack is known for its expertise in blood diseases,” Strongin said. “If you’re in the mid-Atlantic region, you’re going to come here.”

Henry was a resilient child who never thought of himself as sick, but focused on trying to get better, said Strongin, who the founded organization. Hope for Henry has staged events at Hackensack for the past five years.

“He was an amazing kid,” Strongin said of her son. “He had incredible bravery, a positive attitude, a sense of humor.”

“This is more important than all the money gigs you do,” said McNelis, 45, a Washington clown and actor, who has performed Shakespeare. “Everybody gets a chance to give back.”

Sachi Tejani of Rutherford is only 6, but she has already given something back. Earlier this month, she donated bone marrow to her brother, Neelcq, 8, a patient at Hackensack who has lymphoma. Today,  Sachi was watching Doug Young, a magician, perform magic tricks.

“You have to treat them as just kids,” said Young, 36, who wore an electric blue double-breasted jacket. “They have so much love and support around them,” he said. “That really helps.”

E-mail: groves@northjersey.com

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