ST. LOUIS — Laila Anderson couldn’t stop smiling.
The 11-year-old Anderson is suffering from hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a severe systemic inflammatory syndrome that can be fatal. Over the past four months, the only time she’s left home is to go to the hospital for treatment. So, to be sitting at Game 3 of the Western Conference Final between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks at Enterprise Center was an incredible experience.
As she succinctly put it, being there was “everything.”
Laila was diagnosed with HLH in October of 2018. Be the Match helped find her a donor and she had a bone marrow transplant in January. On Thursday she rang the bell at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, signifying 100 days since her transplant.
A neighbor of the Andersons, who live in Des Peres, Missouri, about 15 miles west of St. Louis, offered Laila and her mother, Heather, two tickets for Game 3 in his suite. In a video posted on the Blues website, when Heather told Laila she was going to Game 3, Laila broke down in tears.
“I thought she was going to guess Chipotle; those are the simple things she’s wanting,” Heather said. “She’s battled through a long 20 months of not great news and chemo and all of these things. To look at her and give her something that we thought was so out of reach after 20 months was the best gift I could’ve given her. It was probably one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Laila was featured in a video that played on the board at 6:58 of the first period. She was given an ovation as cameras panned to her holding a sign that read, “I’m here boys… Let’s Do This. Love Laila.”
“Most of it was filmed at the hospital the day I rang the bell,” Laila said of the video.
Louie the Blues mascot was also on hand that day with some cupcakes and an autographed jersey.
Laila’s two favorite Blues players are forward Alexander Steen and defenseman Colton Parayko.
“Colton follows me on Instagram and texted me, which was beyond amazing,” she said. “It said, ‘Hey Laila, I’m thinking about you. how are you doing?’ And Alex Steen has invited me to his house for hot chocolate, and that was beyond amazing.”
Steen called Laila, “an absolute warrior.”
“She’s a very special girl,” Steen said. “She’s gone through so much and always has a positive outlook on it. To see her reaction to being able to come to Game 3 was emotional for everybody.”
The Blues wives got in on Laila’s big night too, outfitting her with a custom denim jacket.
Laila still has a long road ahead of her. It will take at least a year or two for her immune system to build up again. But her optimism is inspiring.
“I mean, it’s been a struggle, but every day is just another day of living,” she said. “You live life to the fullest.”