To celebrate the release of her first children’s album, “I Believe in You,” legendary country music singer-songwriter Dolly Parton visited Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt on Friday, Oct. 13, and performed songs from the album for patients, their families and hospital staff.
Parton specifically wrote the song “Chemo Hero” to honor one of her nieces, Hannah Dennison, who was treated for leukemia at Children’s Hospital for four years, beginning in 1993.
“My first ever children’s album is coming out today, and so I thought it would be nice to surround myself with children on a day like this and to hear some of the stories of these little kids,” said Parton. “My niece Hannah was treated for leukemia here when she was 4. She’s 29 now. She’s a picture of hope, and she’s my little Chemo Hero, which is one of the songs on the album I wrote for her. It was just a special day to be here at Vanderbilt because everybody took such good care of her when she was here.”
During a visit to the hospital’s Chemo Infusion Clinic where young cancer patients receive chemotherapy infusions and treatments for other diseases, Parton’s niece was reunited with three of the nurses who cared for her during her illness: Ann Simons, R.N., Allison Duffey, R.N., and Becky Manes, R.N.
“It was amazing for me to be able to thank some of the nurses who took such great care of me when I was a patient,” Dennison said. “I certainly remembered them, and it was incredible to be able to show our appreciation for all they did for me and my family.”
Her mother, Rachel George, said it was overwhelming to be able to thank the hospital staff again, so many years after they helped her daughter heal.
“We call the nurses here our angels,” George said. “They were wonderful to us. I wanted to come and say thank you, and I wanted to be with Hannah so they could see just how beautiful she has grown up.”
Mehmet Oz, M.D., host of the “Dr. Oz” television show, joined Parton during her visit to Children’s Hospital and interviewed her and her family for an upcoming episode about pediatric cancer set to air during the week of Oct. 23.
After visiting patients one-on-one, Parton greeted a large group of patients, family and staff gathered at the hospital’s Butterfly Garden where she performed several songs, including “Chemo Hero” and “Brave Little Soldier.”
She told the children she hoped the music from her new album would empower them and their families as they dealt with health issues.
“Welcoming the beloved Dolly Parton to our hospital was a true honor and privilege,” said Children’s Hospital CEO Luke Gregory.
“Dolly is a wonderful friend to Children’s Hospital and a champion for children’s health, and we are grateful to her for spending time with our patients and families. We were also so happy to see Dolly’s niece and our former patient, Hannah Dennison, and we celebrate her continued success following her cancer treatment. Hannah is a wonderful reminder of the hope and healing we offer to our patients and their families,” Gregory said.
After leading the crowd in a sing-along performance of “Chemo Hero,” Parton surprised the crowd by announcing a $1 million pledged gift to the Children’s Hospital “in honor of my niece Hannah, my sister Rachel, Hannah’s dad, Richard, and Dr. Naji Abumrad (Parton’s Vanderbilt physican).”
“Well, it surprised me too,” Parton said of her revelation that brought cheers and applause. “My heart said do it, and I just did it. It was important to me to make a donation to the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt because of Hannah’s care and just how well they do for everyone. It’s been a good hospital for us. All my family’s been treated here. I’ve been treated here. This is just a great group of doctors and nurses that provide the best of care, and it was the least I could do.”
“Today was a very wonderful day for us at the hospital,” said Meg Rush, M.D., Chief of Staff and Executive Medical Director of Children’s Hospital. “Dolly has a special personal connection with the work we do every day because of her niece Hannah. Her experience, combined with Dolly’s true passion to bring self-belief and hope to children through her music, truly came to life as Dolly visited the children in our infusion clinic.
“She took time to learn each child’s name, understand some of their story, and give each of them a message of hope. She even sang parts of requested songs.
“Her visit today contributed to the healing process of the complex therapies in a very special way for those children and their families. And then to add to the gift of her presence today, she gave such a generous donation — truly amazing. We were all surprised and so incredibly grateful for her support of our work past, present and now future,” Rush said.
Parton wrapped up her visit with an on-air interview at Seacrest Studios during which children quizzed Parton about her favorite musical instrument and if she had any pets. Program Manager Mamie Shepard simulcast the event so patients at other Seacrest Studios — at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. — could also participate.
All proceeds from the sale of “I Believe in You” benefit Parton’s Imagination Library, a charity that provides free, age-appropriate books monthly to more than 1 million children in four countries. Parton founded Imagination Library in 1996, and she noted the program will soon mail out the 100 millionth book.
Children’s Hospital has nationally ranked leaders in cancer research and provides the most comprehensive cancer care for children in our region. Community members are invited to be a hero in the fight against childhood cancer. To give or find out more, visit www.ChildrensHospital.Vanderbilt.org/givetocancer.