Dolly Parton joined her niece Hannah Dennison at the Monroe Carrel Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Thursday when Dennison was honored at the dedication of the hospital’s newly named Hannah Dennison Butterfly Garden.
Dennison, who will turn 30 on Sunday, was treated at the hospital for leukemia as a child. Her parents Rachel George and Richard Dennison, as well as several other members of the Parton family, were also present for the event.
“This really is a special day for all of us,” Parton told the crowd of children and their families gathered in front of the small stage at the hospital. “We’ve been really looking forward to this. We’re so happy to have our Hannah,” she said, explaining it was 26 years ago that her niece was diagnosed. “For five years, we didn’t know exactly if we’d be keeping her or not. But Hannah stands here as our ‘Chemo Hero.’”
Inspired by Dennison, Parton wrote the song “Chemo Hero” about the plight of children who struggle to beat cancer, their caregivers and their families. “Chemo Hero” is included on Parton’s recent children’s album “I Believe in You.”
The generous singer donated $1 million to Monroe Carrel Jr. Children’s Hospital's Pediatric Cancer Program in October in honor of her niece and Dennison’s parents.
“It was an honor to be treated here and they do such good things here,” said Hannah Dennison. “This is wonderful.”
Following the brief announcement, Parton and her niece visited the hospital’s Seacrest Studios to answer questions from the young patients. One of the children asked Parton which movie made her cry. The answer: “Steel Magnolias.”
“But I cry at ballgames,” Parton said. “I’m just a sap.”
Another child asked how they celebrated birthdays in the Parton family. The singer said they “get together and cook a bunch of stuff.” And, a little girl asked the Country Music Hall of Famer what makes her blush.
“Not much,” Parton quipped. “I’m not very shy. It takes a lot to make me blush.”
In honor of Dennison’s birthday, the hospital’s young patients received vouchers for free ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s on their meal trays.