Hospital social media campaign reunites sick girl with lost charm

After learning that 7-year-old leukemia patient, Jolie, had lost her lucky talisman, UNC Children’s communications team made it a mission to find him.

Hospital social media campaign reunites sick girl with lost charm click to enlarge Jolie, here with her mother, Melanie, was diagnosed with leukemia in March 2014.

It’s an image seen by more than 100,000 people in less than 36 hours via N.C. Children’s Hospital’s Facebook account: a little doll, not much more than two inches tall, fashioned of wound yarn, dangling from an IV poll. With tiny bead eyes—one black, one red—and a sewn-on mouth of cloth teeth, he resembles a skeleton.

“To anyone who would find him, it’s nothing; he’s just a doll,” says Melanie Helmick, the mother of 7-year-old Jolie, who was diagnosed with leukemia in March. “But to us, he’s Jolie’s cancer eater. We take him everywhere.”

The trouble started on a Friday evening. Jolie and her family enjoyed dinner at Elmo’s Diner in Carrboro, later picking up a prescription at the CVS Pharmacy next door. It was at the CVS they first noticed: Jolie’s charm, her cancer eater, was missing.

Helmick immediately recalled her daughter stumbling outside the diner and struggling to get up. She felt certain the little guy must have come loose then, and they retraced their steps several times, asking employees and passersby if they had found anything. When a thorough search turned up nothing, Helmick began to consider the doll may have been lost elsewhere in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.

Upon their return home that night, Helmick posted a photo of Jolie’s lucky talisman on Facebook, asking friends to keep an eye out for him. One of those friends forwarded the post to N.C. Children’s Hospital via a private Facebook message.

UNC Children’s communications team, immediately sympathetic to the family’s plight, helped spread the word with appeals to their Facebook and Twitter followers on Monday morning. The response was immediate. Within four hours, the Facebook post had been shared more than 400 times and reached almost 20,000 people. By the end of the business day, the audience had grown to nearly 40,000 through more than 650 shares.

UNC Children's plea was ultimately shared more that 1,400 times and seen by more than 100,000 Facebook users. (Click to enlarge.)“As we watched our engagement numbers grow, it evolved into a bit of a personal mission to reunite Jolie with her charm,” says UNC Children’s communication director, Danielle Bates. “It was rewarding to see so many people take a personal interest in her story, to see how much they genuinely wanted to help.”


Disappointed that Monday’s search didn’t yield any real leads, the communications team posted messages on the Facebook pages of several Triangle area media outlets that evening, hoping to get some extra traction with their large social media audiences.

By Tuesday morning, WNCN responded to the call with posts on Facebook and Twitter and an offer to do a television news story to reach their viewers. While reporter Justin Quesinberry met with mother and daughter in Carrboro, the reach of the Children’s Hospital’s plea surpassed 65,000.

And then it happened. Late Tuesday afternoon, the response everyone had been hoping for was posted on the Children’s Hospital’s Facebook page. “Me thinks we have a winner!” the post started. It included a photo of Jolie’s good-luck piece laying in the palm of an outstretched hand.

The hand belongs to Mike Tejada, the man behind the post and an employee of the CVS Pharmacy where Helmick picked up that prescription. He first heard about the search when a woman stopped by the pharmacy referencing the Facebook post. When he later found the yarn figure—lying on the floor in a small space between the photo machine and a cash register—he remembered the conversation and soon confirmed his find with a visit to the Children’s Hospital’s Facebook page.

“Seeing how many people were on the post hunting for this thing made quite an impression on me,” says Tejada. “And I was instantly glad to be a part of it and help prove how powerful a tool the Internet can be.”

The communications team helped arranged a reunion that same evening, and WNCN’s Quesinberry returned to Carrboro to capture the moment. As touching as the footage is, it doesn’t show Jolie’s reaction.

“We didn’t have the heart to tell her the doll was lost forever, so we gave her a replacement given to us by a friend,” explains Helmick. “She pretended she didn’t know, but she was so happy when I told her it had actually been found. It was obvious that she’s known it wasn’t the real thing. She was just going along for our sakes.”

Jolie Sleeping
Jolie rests during a recent treatment at UNC. (Click to enlarge.)
The Children’s Hospital’s original post was ultimately shared more than 1,400 times, reaching more than 100,000 Facebook users. Overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, Melanie shared her gratitude on the Children’s Hospital’s Facebook page Tuesday night.

“We are just incredibly humbled by the number of people not only searching for her little talisman, but how many people have reached out to us wanting to do anything to help this little girl feel better,” her post reads. “Thank you so much. So much. As long as I live, I will never be able to match the relentless kindness shown us by friends and strangers alike.”

The yarn doll’s return to Jolie leaves everyone praying his cancer eating prowess matches his power to bring people together for the hope and comfort of one little girl and her family.

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