Operation Balloon Brings Joy and Happiness to UVA Health Children’s Patients

May 20, 2024 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

It looked like a scene from the movie “Up.”

Onlookers could be forgiven for worrying that student volunteers might float away while clutching bright bundles of mylar sunflowers, octopuses, jellyfish and flamingos, as the University of Virginia’s “Balloon Brigade” collected hundreds of balloons from graduates during Saturday’s and Sunday’s Final Exercises.

Carrying balloons during Finals Weekend has become a student tradition, the idea being that they can help families spot their students. Five years ago, the University created the Balloon Brigade to protect the environment and spread cheer.

“This is a great example where we can get these balloons a second life in a way that brings a lot of joy to both the UVA community and the surrounding region by taking balloons not only to the children's hospital, but to community organizations as well,” Lela Garner, the student outreach and engagement manager for UVA Sustainability, said.

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Holly Leslie had her hands full as she came out of an elevator in UVA Health’s Battle Building with her four children, ages 6, 5, 3 and 1, and were greeted by registered nurse Christina Knicely with a fistful of the graduation balloons.

Three-year-old Joshua chose a shark balloon. Why? “Um, I don’t know,” he said in a raspy voice. His older sister, Addy, chose a frog balloon. She also did not know why she chose it.

“This is such a great surprise. What a good surprise to come off the elevator from a long morning and have balloons,” Holly said over her children’s excited chatter.

The Leslies travel to Charlottesville from Bedford. Holly said the care at the hospital is “the best.”

Joshua Leslie, foreground, admires his shark balloon with two friends who also hold balloons
Joshua Leslie, foreground, admires his shark balloon. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

“That is why we make the drive, because UVA is amazing, because you all do stuff like this, and they have books.”

Upstairs in the infusion unit, 4-year-old Lorelai was getting her biweekly infusion for Niemann-Pick A/B disease. “She is currently the only pediatric patient in the state” with that diagnosis, said her mother, Miranda Lawhorne. “It’s a lysosomal storage disorder. The fatty cells build up in her liver, her lungs, the brain, all the major organs. She just started getting infusions on Sept. 29 of last year.”

Lorelai chose a tropical fish, and happily played with it during her treatment.

Miranda Lawhorne hands her daughter, Lorelai, a tropical fish balloon.
Miranda Lawhorne hands her daughter, Lorelai, a tropical fish balloon. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

“While we appreciate the spirit behind donations, it’s important to note that a significant number of balloons can’t be donated due to wear and tear from a full day of use,” Garner of UVA Sustainability said. “If students are undecided about buying a balloon, we echo UVA’s advice against bringing them to Final Exercises. We’ll always have plenty to donate, but we’d love to minimize waste whenever possible.”

Rising fourth-year student Taryk Saidou was all smiles as he collected balloons.
Rising fourth-year student Taryk Saidou is all smiles as he collects balloons. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Faith Crosley, a rising-fourth year student, takes a haul of balloons into Old Cabell Hall.
Faith Crosley, a rising-fourth year student, takes a haul of balloons into Old Cabell Hall. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Volunteers take collected balloons into a classroom Old Cabell Hall.
Volunteers take collected balloons into a classroom in Old Cabell Hall. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Crosley stores the decorations in a classroom.
Crosley stores the decorations in a classroom. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Facilities Management employees help deliver balloons to UVA Health Children’s.
Facilities Management employees help deliver balloons to UVA Health Children’s. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Workers carry the balloons into the brightly painted Battle Building.
Workers carry the balloons into the brightly painted Battle Building. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Lela Garner, student outreach and engagement manager for UVA Sustainability, helps deliver the balloons collected during Finals Weekend.
Lela Garner, student outreach and engagement manager for UVA Sustainability, helps deliver the balloons collected during Finals Weekend. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
Registered nurse Christina Knicely helps give out balloons.
Registered nurse Christina Knicely helps give out balloons. (Photo by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications