Six-year-old cancer warrior Kohen Karns turned his flashlight on and off, warming up for Project Night Lights.
On a scale of one to 10, how excited was he?
“About 200!” he said.
The big event, about to take place in a few minutes, would involve police cars, fire trucks and many individuals lined up outside Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital—all shining lights and emergency flashers to show support for the young patients.
The children would respond by blinking flashlights out windows.
As he waited eagerly in his hospital room on the ninth floor, Kohen explained why he was so excited to see the flashing lights.
“They are all caring about us and everybody in the whole hospital,” he said.
His answer rang true for his mother, Lisa Karns.
After Kohen’s acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis, he spent 65 days in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Because of his weakened immune system, he often had restrictions on visitors, which meant he went long stretches without seeing many friends or visitors.
“He would say, ‘Nobody thinks about me,’” Karns said.
The light show proved to be a great way to show “that people are out there and they care,” she said.
At 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, the first Project Night Lights began. Kohen watched with his 4-year-old brother, Ford, his parents, Lisa and Eric Karns, his grandparents, uncle and friends.
The kids clustered at the windows, looking at the police cars and fire trucks on the street and parking ramps below as they flashed their red and blue lights. On the sidewalks, people gathered, waving flashlights and strobe lights.
Patients, doctors and staff members also shined lights from windows of Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center.
Kohen pressed against the glass, shining his blinking flashlight in response.
“Cool,” he said.
Amid the many blinking lights, he picked out his favorite: the light of his friend, 5-year-old Miles Kapanu.
About 150 children in the hospital took part in the first edition of Project Night Lights. It will occur the second Wednesday of every month at 8:30 p.m.
“I think it was a great success,” said Russ Hoekstra, a Child Life manager at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “It was great to see so many people willing to give their time and support to these kids.”
The Child Life team at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital worked closely with area law enforcement agencies and Silent Observer in organizing the event.
“We are so excited to see this program come together,” said Shari Schwanzl, vice president of operations and nursing at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “This feels kind of like tucking the kids in at night. The community is out there saying good night.”
Silent Observer executive director Chris Cameron said the chiefs and leaders of local law enforcement agencies loved the idea of Project Night Lights from the start.
“They were so enthusiastic. It was just awesome,” she said. “They just wanted to be a part of it.
“It’s just a really nice thing to do,” she added. “It’s showing love and showing support. It’s giving these young children encouragement. I hope their families will feel encouraged, too.”
Lt. Kristen Rogers, of the Grand Rapids Police Department, appreciated the chance to connect with and help children and families coping with illness or injury.
“This is just an amazing experience,” she said. “It’s something that warms the hearts of the kids and warms our hearts, as well.”