Darla Holloway, a 4-year-old who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two years ago, joined the Jimmy Fund Chorus on Tuesday night to sing the national anthem before the Red Sox-Orioles game at Fenway Park. But that was nothing compared to the encore she had in store.
Holloway was accompanied by her mother, Sherelle, as she sang "God Bless America" later during the seventh-inning stretch.
"It's songs of happiness," Sherelle Holloway said in a pregame radio interview with WEEI. "I'm happy, she's happy now. She likes singing, too. It's something to take your mind off what's going on."
Darla Holloway was getting over a cold about two years ago when her mother took her to the doctor, fearing it had perhaps become an ear infection. The tests revealed something worse.
"Basically, they told me that her counts were so low that her organs were getting ready to get shut down," Sherelle Holloway said. "I wanted to get a second opinion. And they were like, 'You don't have time for that.'"
The doctors discovered it was a form of blood cancer, administered a blood transfusion and transferred Darla to a children's hospital.
"It was really scary," Sherelle Holloway said. "I didn't know what it was. I have all healthy children, so I was like, 'Where'd this come from?' Pretty much, they just said, 'There's no answer for it. It just pops up when it wants to pop up.'"
The family has been working with The Jimmy Fund for most of Darla's treatment. It's a Boston-based organization that raises funds for adult and pediatric cancer care and research to help support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year is the 60th anniversary of the Jimmy Fund's relationship with the Red Sox.
Said Red Sox manager John Farrell: "You recognize that there are certain situations in every family that you're dealing with some health issue, and to see someone who's dealing with something that you would think is pretty tragic, to have the wherewithal and the composure to sing a song like that, I'm sure everybody in the ballpark was touched, including everybody in our dugout."
"It was pretty cool," second baeman Dustin Pedroia said of Darla's seventh-inning rendition. "It was special. Everybody was out there [on the field] and kind of had to take a step back."
Darla's disease is "a good leukemia" that is treatable, Sherelle says. The first set of treatment required a hospital stay of about two months, then it turned into outpatient weekly visits. They still have home visits with a nurse, and they visit the hospital about once a month. Darla is now a year and four months into the two-year treatment program.
"There are the treatments now, so I really thank God for that," Sherelle Holloway said. "It's bearable. She's dealing with it. We're dealing with it, happier now that we know what we have to deal with. … It's just really overwhelming, but it's good at the end, because you know it's going to be a good outcome of her getting better."