Eddins Elementary School fourth-grader Jenna Leonard has almost made it to the finish line in more ways than one.

This Saturday, Jenna and her team — her parents, family and friends — will participate in the third annual Red Balloon Run and Ride at Children’s Medical Center Legacy campus in Plano. Team Jenna is within a few hundred dollars of their $5,000 fundraising goal. And in one year, Jenna will be finished with chemotherapy and will only be required to go in for regular checkups and bloodwork. Currently in remission, Jenna won’t be declared cancer free until five years after her final treatment but the fourth-grader is taking each day in stride.

For Suzanne and Brian Leonard, the yearlong journey through diagnosis, chemotherapy, hospitalization and constant concern about the health of their young daughter, has been an emotional marathon.

“Things like this really catch you very much off guard,” said Suzanne Leonard. “We’ve come out a lot stronger as a family. It’s in large part due to just not taking things for granted.”

Jenna, 9, has trained for this weekend’s event and plans to run the 5k with her mom, dad and twin sister, Kate. Her brother Jack, 5, will be walking with grandma. And this year Jenna will be sporting a cute pixie hairdo. Chemotherapy caused Jenna’s hair to fall out and because of her compromised health, participating in physical activities was not possible. Jenna feels stronger now and she’s back on the pitch with the Ponies, her beloved soccer team.

“To see her where she is now versus where we were last year is amazing,” said Suzanne Leonard. “Last year when we were [at the race] she was losing her hair. I wanted [Jenna] to come back [this] year and I wanted her to run it.”

Jenna has also returned to C. T. Eddins Elementary School this year. Jenna worked at home with Carl Schneider, who teaches fifth grade at Eddins Elementary, most of her third grade year.

She missed her friends. They missed her more.

This experience has made her stronger though Jenna will tell you not every day was easy.

“I knew I was going to lose my hair. That made me very scared.  I was also very scared of passing away,” said Jenna, reflecting on how she felt when she first heard she had cancer. Jenna was treated for leukemia and the procedures were sometimes difficult. “It’s only scary when you do it once and you get better at it,” she said.

Jenna has remained hopeful and is surrounded by a positivity posse. Her doctors and family encourage her every day, even on the hard days, the nauseous days, and Jenna takes their words of encouragement to heart. “I’m going to be OK,” she said. “I’ll make it through this.”

That’s why Saturday’s event means so much to Jenna and her family.

In an email to supporters, Suzanne Leonard wrote, “Children's [Medical Center] in Plano is only about a mile or so from my PepsiCo Parkwood office and Brian's JCPenney's Headquarters office. As he watched it being built, Brian had what he later described to me as a sort of premonition, ‘What a blessing to have world-class treatment available for our 3 children so close to home – just in case we ever need it.’ As it turned out, we did need it, and needed it badly. Children's delivered for Jenna and our family and for that I will be forever grateful to an extent that I cannot fully express in words.”

The Red Balloon Run and Ride “is the largest grassroots fundraising event” for Children’s Medical Center at Legacy said Preston Walhood, Executive Director of Passion for Children’s, whose fundraising organization produces the event. And it’s an important one for the hospital which provides some $80 million in uncompensated care for patients.

“No child is turned away when they come to the hospital,” regardless of their ability to pay for treatment, said Walhood.

Children’s Medical Center has locations in Dallas and Plano and provides services to 570,000 children every year, according to its website, many of whom do not have insurance, who are underinsured and whose families struggle to pay for the much needed medical treatment. The Leonards — who do have health insurance and had additional financial support from family — were grateful for the care and support the hospital showed their family. And many of the services, such as camps for patients, are free.

“Folks who participate can choose to have their funds earmarked. We’re giving to the hospital in general,” said Suzanne Leonard whose company is also donating products. One hundred percent of the funds raised for Saturday’s event benefit Children’s Medical Center and the Leonards will tell you every penny counts when it comes to the care and well-being of your child.

Jenna is excited to run this year and as she presses forward she’ll be chanting: I can do this! And with each step, she said, she’ll think about the friends she made along the way, the other patients she encouraged when they were scared and the ones who may be entering the hospital for the first time.

“I’m also going to be very happy for every other kid that made it through treatment.”

Team Jenna Details:



For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Specialist, at 469-302-4007 or smauldin@mckinneyisd.net