They immediately formed a strong bond and were together nearly every moment that they could between medications, chemo treatments and transfusions.
The friendship helped their healing and inspired their parents, who also became close friends.
After spending much of the year hospitalized, both children are at home and in remission, but they and their families remain close.
Summer Drinnon, Sawyer’s mom, said having that friendship was invaluable for their family. She said it made them feel that they were not alone and had someone to share experiences and stories with. They each had someone who knew what they were going through.
“We are beyond thankful for these friends that turned into family,” Drinnon said.
The children initially bonded over a shared love of the Grinch from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” by Dr. Seuss.
Last December, Levi walked the hospital halls with his mom and noticed that he and Sawyer had their rooms decorated with a Grinch theme.
Levi made Grinch goodie bags for every child on the floor and hung them on the door handles. Sawyer returned the favor by hanging a gift for Levi on his hospital room door, which sparked the friendship.
The two preschoolers began passing each other notes under the door, and their parents scheduled play dates for them in the playroom.
“It was an instant connection,” said Levi’s mom, Karli Lansdell. “They picked each other up. If one were sick, the other would make them smile, and vice versa. They were so sweet. Even if one didn’t feel like playing, the other would go into the room and check on them.”
Drinnon said her daughter woke up each morning to see what Levi was doing for the day, eager to discover what fun things they could do together. They met in the hallways to walk together to breakfast, then into the hospital’s shared playrooms to play superheroes.
The families also grew close. Karli Lansdell bonded with Summer Drinnon, and the two dads, Zach Lansdell and Ryan Vines, also became close friends.
“That is a friendship that will never be lost,” said Karli Lansdell. “We would have family play time, family dinners, play dates – everything we could do to make the hospital life more enjoyable.”
The children’s hospital stays overlapped, and the pair spent nearly every moment together, celebrating other holidays. Levi asked Sawyer to be his Valentine while in the hospital, and it was a moment that the families will never forget.
“The two cried for each other at their lowest moments, laughed through all the tough times, and comforted each other in ways words cannot express,” Karli Lansdell wrote in explaining how the children’s friendship contributed to their health and healing.
After Levi was discharged from the hospital, Sawyer started her next treatment at Egleston, and the parents had to arrange for them to FaceTime or call each day.
Lansdell said it can be hard to make close connections during a hospital stay, but it’s worth the effort because those friendships are lasting.
“Other people outside of the hospital don’t see the inside world we’re living in, the cancer life. It was really good to have support – someone who understood what you were going through,” she said.
Spending the holidays in the hospital can also be a downer, but families can still make memories.
“We still decorated our room. We still had a little Christmas tree. We had presents. We didn’t make cookies, but we decorated cookies,” remembered Lansdell. “There are many things you can still do to get in the holiday spirit, even on the bad days.”
Team members with CURE Childhood Cancer are in the hospitals every day, and during the holidays, they help decorate patient rooms. The nonprofit’s Holiday Angel program allows companies and families to adopt families in the hospital and fulfill their entire wish list.
CURE works with Atlanta-based Copeland’s of New Orleans restaurant to provide more than 200 Christmas Eve dinners, all donated by Copeland’s, said CURE’s CEO Kristin Connor.
The nonprofit also hosts an annual holiday party for about 200 young cancer patients and families who aren’t in the hospital.
Levi and Sawyer are out of the hospital and back to everyday life. Levi enjoys playing outside, playing ball, and going on adventures. He and his parents were given a trip to Disney World this month through the Make-A-Wish Georgia nonprofit.
Sawyer enjoys playing with her sisters, singing and dressing up.
The two have met up for several play dates and still make time for phone calls when their schedules line up or on appointment days.
“For Christmas this year, we are at home and enjoying every minute of it, being home, having him healthy, and just truly soaking in every moment,” said Lansdell.
HOW TO HELP
Cure Childhood Cancer donates more than $5 million annually to childhood cancer research and the precision medicine program at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The nonprofit also walks beside families in their fight against childhood cancer, providing meals and snacks, counselors and financial assistance.
Those interested in donating can go to curechildhoodcancer.org.