Heroes Among Us

Susan and Kendall Plank Decorate Hospital Rooms for Sick Children

06/20/2013 at 06:00 PM EDT

  • Kendall Plank
    Kasey French
  • Kendall and Susan Plank
    Mike Plank
  • Josie Hull
    Howard Breuer
  • Joshua Lopez
    Howard Breuer
Kendall Plank knew her 12-year-old friend JB Glennon was nervous about getting a bone marrow transplant at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

She also knew her friend was a huge University of Texas fan.

One day when he stepped away from his room, she and her mom, Susan, decked it out with University of Texas memorabilia – quilts, blankets, games, towels and more.

"When JB saw his room he said, 'This is so awesome! Thank you very much!' and gave me a big hug," recalls Kendall, now 17, of Houston.

"He told me that it meant the world to him that somebody actually cared enough about him to do this," she says.

Inspired by JB's jubilant reaction, Kendall told her mother, "We gotta do this for all these kids that are here."

Nearly six years later, the Dec My Room program, which largely relies on volunteers and donations, has taken over hundreds of children's hospital rooms across the country with themes ranging from Hello Kitty to Hollywood.

"It's just taken off," says Susan Plank.

On a recent afternoon, Joshua Lopez, 11, of Downey, Calif., is at Inpatient Acute Rehabilitation Unit at Children's Hospital Los Angeles when an entourage of volunteers descends with handpainted signs, balloons, and Los Angeles Lakers memorabilia (including a signed size 17 basketball shoe from Pau Gasol, his favorite player) to decorate the room of the ailing fan.

One member of the entourage is Dec My Room Director Jenny Hull whose daughter, Josie, 11, spent most of her young life in hospital rooms after undergoing a grueling 23-hour separation surgery on Aug. 5, 2002.

Jenny says Josie helped pick out the decorations.

"I love decorating the rooms and helping the children," says Josie.

A few minutes later, doctors and nurses yell "Surprise!" as Joshua enters the room.

"This made me really happy," says Joshua, who is struggling with juvenile dermatomyositis. (For Joshua's reaction to his new room, see the video below.)

Next door is Brieanna Smith, 14, of Los Angeles, who is also being treated for juvenile dermatomyositis.

Her room was recently made-over with chinese lanterns, Hello Kitty balloons and blankets. She also received DVDs of the Twilight movie.

"I was really surprised when they did this to my room," says Smith. "It's made my room more homey."

Her mother, Alicia Cole, agrees. "She was so excited that day when they made over her room," says Cole, 45. "She said, 'Mom – look at my room! Look at my room!' "

She said when her daughter first found out she might be at the hospital for four months, she was depressed. But the makeover made a big difference in her state of mind.

"This lifts the kids' spirits," Cole says.





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