November 27, 2020

Student sends Buckets of Love to toddler

Ally Hennessey thanks Lilly Dumar for the cards and the donations that Dumar collected during her Buckets of Love fundraising event in the UC. PHOTO BY CAILLIN MURRAY

Ally Hennessey, 3, smiled as she pawed through a stack of brightly-decorated cards lying on top of a table. The front of each card featured a different hand-drawn design. Many cards had flowers and butterflies adorning their fronts. Every card had the name “Ally” written across it in big letters.

Lilly Dumar, sophomore journalism major, collected these cards for Hennessey. Dumar set up a table in the University Center to collect cards for Hennessey. Dumar also collected donations to help pay for treatment of Hennessey’s genetic disorder.

“This isn’t an adult we’re talking about. Not that’s it’s OK for an adult to (have a serious illness), but a 3-year-old, who hasn’t done any growing up yet, she still has so much ahead of her,” Dumar said. “That kind of just struck a chord with me. I was like, ‘I can’t just sit here and let this happen.’”

Hennessey has Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic disorder, which caused a tumor to grow over her left optical nerve. The tumor is benign, but it continued to grow until it began to damage Hennessey’s vision in her left eye.

Ally Hennessey started chemotherapy in an attempt to halt the growth of the tumor on August 18, her mother Shannon Hennessey said.

“She should get the port out (a small medical appliance inserted beneath the skin to deliver chemotherapy) in February,” Shannon Hennessey said. “And then we promised her a trip to Disney.”

Dumar heard about Ally Hennessey’s story from a friend. The friend asked her to make cards for Ally Hennessey, because she said the little girl loved receiving cards. Instead, Dumar decided to place a table in the UC to collect cards and donations from Webster students and faculty. Webster’s Swim Club helped sponsor the event.

Dumar set up the table April 23 to 26 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Her goal was to raise $100. However, she exceeded that goal and raised $128.44. The Hennesseys said the money will help fund Ally Hennessey’s treatment.

Ally Hennessey was diagnosed with NF1 when she was 9 months old. She had been complaining of daily headaches for weeks when her parents took her to the hospital. An MRI found an optic glioma, a tumor on her optic nerve.

Shannon Hennessey said about 15 percent of children with NF1 get optic gliomas, and an even smaller percentage require chemotherapy to shrink the tumor.

Ally Hennessey is a rare case, but she acts like a typical 3-year-old girl.

“She is amazing,” Shannon Hennessey said. “I know a lot of parents say that about their kids, but every time she goes into the hospital, they have to stick a needle into her chest to get blood and all that…”

Finishing his wife’s sentence, Ed Hennessey said, “She doesn’t care. She just goes in (pretends to lift shirt up), ‘Poke me!’”

Ed Hennessey said  Ally Hennessey gets excited when she gets a brain MRI.

“She’s like, ‘Oh great, brain pictures! It’s time to smile (for the camera),’” Ed Hennessey said.

Ally Hennessey’s parents think she is able to cope with the difficulties of the illness easier because she was diagnosed so young.

“By the time she was old enough to be aware of what was going on around her, it (glioma treatment) was already a part of her routine,” Ed Hennessey said. “She doesn’t know that chemo is bad.”

Dumar named the event Buckets of Love after she decided to collect donations in a bucket.

“I was thinking of all the things I could put in a bucket, things kids her age would like, like ponies, cookies, money, love,” Dumar said. “I just decided on calling it Buckets of Love. Which I’m really glad I did, because calling the event Buckets of Ponies may have given people the wrong impression.”

The Hennesseys started a page for Ally. Caringbridge is a website that allows people with serious illnesses and their families to post updates on their progress. Ally Hennessey’s Caringbridge page is open for anyone to view.

Shannon Hennessey said Ally Hennessey’s favorite part of her Caringbridge page are the messages of support she receives. Shannon Hennessey said she reads the messages to Ally Hennessey when she’s in the hospital.

She said Ally Hennessey and her sister Lily spend hours laying in bed, reading all the cards Ally Hennessey has received from her friends, family and classmates.

“She loves the cards,” Ed Hennessey said. “That’s what’s important to her, is the card. She doesn’t care about the co-pays at the hospital.”

Ally Hennessey told Dumar “Thank you” as she collected and sorted the cards Webster students had made.

To view Ally Hennessey’s Caringbridge page, go to


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