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Melania Trump befriends 18-year-old former leukemia patient

December 6, 2019 GMT
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First lady Melania Trump reads a Christmas book to children as she is seated between patients at Children's National Hospital, Sammie Burley, left, and Declan McCahan, right, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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First lady Melania Trump reads a Christmas book to children as she is seated between patients at Children's National Hospital, Sammie Burley, left, and Declan McCahan, right, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first time Caoilinn McLane met Melania Trump she had no idea it wouldn’t be the last time.

Fighting leukemia from her bed at Children’s National Hospital, Caoilinn McLane, then 15, met the first lady in 2017. Mrs. Trump had quietly visited the hospital to help with preparations for a “healing” garden that was being built for patients and their families.

They met again when the first lady returned weeks later to dedicate the rooftop garden.

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And the pair saw each other Friday when McLane was given the honor of introducing Mrs. Trump when she returned to the hospital to continue the tradition of first ladies reading to patients at holiday time.

“I’m glad that we’re here, and I get to see her again,” McLane, now 18, told The Associated Press in a brief interview before the event as she sat with her mother, Libby McLane. The family lives in Aldie, Virginia.

At one point, when McLane suffered a relapse, she answered the telephone to find the first lady was on the line.

“It was so special,” she said. “I felt very cared for and it ... meant a lot that somebody was thinking about me.”

Libby McLane said the White House had reached out to her a couple of days in advance to set up the call. At the time, mother and daughter were spending a lot of time going back and forth between hospitals in the District of Columbia so the girl could get radiation treatments she needed to get ready for a bone marrow transplant.

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“So when the call was coming, I knew who it was and I let her answer it,” Libby McLane said.

“I sort of freaked out,” added Caoilinn McLane. The high school senior said her leukemia is in remission following a bone marrow transplant about a year ago.

The first lady’s office confirmed Caoilinn McLane’s account of her interactions with Mrs. Trump.

The first lady has spent a lot of time visiting children in hospitals around the country, especially those born dependent on opioids. Her concern for Caoilinn McLane fits with her “Be Best” youth initiative and its focus on child well-being.

Libby McLane said the first lady has also sent messages through Children’s National Hospital.

“She really is genuine and cares for the kids, and that’s so special,” Libby McLane said.

“I appreciate her interest in just following along and seeing how Caoilinn’s doing and sending us well wishes,” she said. “A lot of times, through the hospital, we’d get a little message that they had spoken to Mrs. Trump and she was asking how Caoilinn’s doing.”

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At the hospital on Friday, the first lady toured a short-stay unit and a surgical unit. She also visited with patients in a playroom and helped make snowflakes with them.

She came down to the atrium after the tour, sitting with two patients in front of a towering Christmas tree to read “Oliver the Ornament Meets Belle,” a sequel to the story she read at the hospital in 2018. Oliver is a damaged Christmas ornament with a spirit that helps him overcome challenges.

“Nice to be here again,” Mrs. Trump said before she started reading the story.

When finished, she wished everyone “Merry Christmas and happy and healthy New Year.” She also praised the doctors and nurses on staff as “amazing.”

The tradition of first ladies visiting hospitalized children at Christmastime dates back to Bess Truman.

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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap