Girl with mom fighting COVID-19 gets birthday surprise


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An 8-year-old girl got a birthday surprise she never saw coming.

Lola Penniman’s mom, Ana Penniman, is currently at Spectrum Health fighting COVID-19. She has been there for the past three weeks.

“It’s been a slow-moving nightmare, but we’ve been surrounded by kindness all over the world,” said Don Penniman, Ana’s dad. 

Thursday marked Ana’s daughter Lola’s 8th birthday. It would be the first one they wouldn’t be able to spend together. 

“We miss her. She’s a great friend to all of us and nobody deserves this. It sucks,” said Chesley Thorn, friend of Penniman. “It’s tough times and we all really wanted to come together so she could feel the love and just have some joy on this day.”

To cheer up the birthday girl and her family, Thorn and a few dozen others gathered at Garfield Park to decorate their cars with balloons, birthday signs and paint. 

Lola has been staying in the area with her grandparents while her mother recovers. Thursday afternoon, the group drove past the house honking and yelling happy birthday wishes for a birthday parade. 

“I was in awe. I think it’s an amazing thing that a community can come together like we are,” said her paternal grandmother, Dawn Robinet as she held gifts and balloons.

A procession of police cars, friends, teachers and family members started down the street just after noon. 

A birthday celebration for 8-year-old Lola. (April 16, 2020)

“I started crying right away,” said Lola’s grandmother Dawn Sieplinga as she stood in her front yard. “Such a great support and, you know, Lola’s mom is at Butterworth. She’s entering her third week there and the people have just rallied around us. It’s been amazing.”

For about 15 minutes, people threw gifts, cheers and played birthday music as they passed by in their cars. As Lola watched, her face lit up.

“I can’t believe even my cousins came,” said the 8-year-old. “This is like the most amazing-est day of my whole entire life.”

Penniman’s family says they wanted to remind her that while her mother recovers, she still has friends and family who are behind her. 

“She has a community that’s got her back no matter what. This community will rally around this kid and any kid. We’re overwhelmed,” said an emotional Don Penniman. 

Ana Penniman is still recovering. Her family says she is slowly making progress. In the meantime, they say they are vigorously praying for her health. 

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