Like many little girls, Leah Davidson is fascinated by princesses.
Tuesday may have been the grand coronation for the tiny 6-year-old who suffers from brittle bone disease—she met a real live queen.
Leah was one of a handful of children who interacted with King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima when they toured Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The royals visited several medical centers and cultural landmarks during their U.S. visit. Leah presented the queen with a hand-made crown gleaming with glitz and glitter.
“I like how she was all fancy,” Leah said, wiggling her legs with excitement as she sat in her red motorized wheelchair on the 10th floor infusion room. “I loved her dress and her hat and stuff.”
The queen sported a bright coral blouse, tan skirt and stylish woven hat.
“I was so excited,” the Rothbury girl said after the royal visit. “I’m going to tell my dad and my brother and sister that I met the king and queen. My sister is only 1 so she probably won’t understand.”
Leah handed the queen the crown, which she crafted from paper and sparkles.
“She said when she didn’t have a hat on that she would wear it,” said Leah, glowing brighter than crown jewels. “I can’t wait to tell all my friends.”
Leah’s mom, Stephanie, said she Googled the king and queen so they could learn more about them before the visit.
“I got to see pictures of their (daughters),” Leah said, giving a thumbs up with the same hand that high-fived the queen.
It’s not every day royalty walks in your midst, not every day you get to sing with a queen.
Madison Pflug, 11, was in the middle of a music therapy session with the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Child Life team when the royals entered the infusion area.
Madison, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2, sang “Roar” by Katy Perry.
“The queen asked what we were doing and asked if she could hear us,” she said.
Queen Maxima joined in the singing, saying her daughters loved that song.
“It was awesome,” Madison said, her blue eyes gleaming under a magenta knit hat. “It’s really exciting to know the people in front of you are a king and queen. They were very nice people. Very easy to talk to and very friendly.”
Madison’s mom, Amy, said she teared up as she witnessed the interaction between her daughter and royalty. As difficult as Madison’s medical journey is, an ordinary life path likely would not have led to a meeting with the king and queen of the Netherlands.
“This amazing experience came because of it,” Amy said. “I woke up this morning thinking ‘my daughter gets to meet the king and queen.’ Normally you’d have to travel just to even get a glimpse of a castle. I always try to take note of things like that. I had a hard time not crying. It was a beautiful thing for them to come through here and have a heart for the things these kids go through.”
When Lola DeYoung, 9, first learned a few months ago that the king and queen would be visiting Grand Rapids, she asked her mom if she could watch the motorcade.
Instead, she made a “Welkom” banner with her handprints, then met the royals face-to-face.
Lola curtsied for Queen Maxima as the graceful lady walked into the kids’ playroom.
“That really stole the show,” said Child Life specialist Audra Holst. “It was really cute.”
The queen was so impressed she asked Lola to repeat the greeting for the king.
“I didn’t really plan on doing that,” Lola said. “The king kissed my hand.”
That moment is a memento for the memory bank. The child who is suffering from a leukemia relapse is also making a notebook at home.
“I’m going to have a whole page about meeting the king and queen,” Lola said. “I got the queen’s signature and my grandma cut a picture of them out of the newspaper.”
Lola said she was surprised by how approachable the royal couple was.
“They weren’t like royalty,” she said. “They were more like us. They were so nice.”
King Willem asked Lola about her treatments and her medical journey.
“He seemed genuinely interested in what occurs here,” said Lola’s mom, Lindsey.
Miriam Sawka, 13, also met the king and queen in the children’s playroom. She gave them a keychain made out of gold ribbon, the symbol of pediatric oncology.
“I thought it would be a nice gift for her because I heard she had an interest in pediatric oncology,” Miriam, who has Ewing’s sarcoma, said.
“They were very royal and very down-to-earth at the same time,” she said, calling the experience amazing. “They asked about my journey through the oncology experience and how I’ve been handling it. I told them there are up and down days, but I’m on the mend. I never expected anything like this and don’t think I will be able to have an experience like this ever again. It was a great once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”