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Girl battling leukemia gets winter wonderland in her backyard

Posted at 1:22 PM, Dec 02, 2014

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- There's no place like home for the holidays -- and for one little girl in Cleveland, it's the only place.

Gianna Andolina, who is 3, doesn't get to leave her house often. When she does, her visits away from home are to the hospital. She was diagnosed with leukemia in June and though she's in remission, she will undergo treatments until early September 2016.

A weakened immune system because of her intense treatment regimen prevents her from spending time outside. But over the weekend, thanks to the generosity of friends, family and strangers, Gianna -- or "Princess Gigi" -- went walking through a winter wonderland.

"Every year, we typically go see a couple houses that are all decked out with Christmas lights," Gianna's dad, Adam, told WJW.

Gigi's parents, Adam and Julie, decided if they couldn't bring Gianna to see Christmas, they would bring Christmas to her. Julie posted a call-out on social media asking for secondhand Christmas decorations to adorn the area behind their house.

"We wanted it to look like Christmas threw up in our backyard," Julie laughed.

The turnout exceeded their expectations; even strangers showed up, some of whom lived an hour away.

"I just thought we would get a couple of inflatables," Julie said, "but it just exploded."

What they got were dozens of lights, several snowmen (including the famed Olaf of "Frozen") and the crowning jewel -- a sparkling tiara for Princess Gigi.

Since Gianna spends her days inside, she had no idea Santa's helpers were hard at work building a bit of magic in her own backyard. Just after the sun went down, it began to look a lot like Christmas.

"She was in shock, she was in love, she thought it was beautiful," Julie said.

Gianna started out exploring the bedazzled backyard in her mother's arms, but she demanded to have a walk-through for herself.

"She was adamant about putting her rain boots on," Julie said.

Julie describes her daughter as "the happiest child." She loves to accessorize and watch "My Little Pony." And tonight, they're having a head shaving party in Gianna's honor since her rigorous steroid treatments are causing her hair to fall out in chunks.

In the face of Gianna's scary diagnosis, Julie says the kindness of the community has been "incredibly humbling."

"It makes you really appreciate what you have and reminds you there is so much more good than bad."