Skip to main content
News from UC Davis Health System

News from UC Davis Health System

NEWS | December 26, 2012

Former children's hospital patient returns to share 100 'smiles'


Hailee Cunha, who has been treated at UC Davis Children’s Hospital  since a fall during a gymnastics event three years ago, last week returned to bring holiday smiles to the place where she has spent many hours as a patient.

Hailee Cunha
Tanesha Smith picks out a blanket from the "Smile Project" with former patient Hailee Cunha.

Now 14 years old, the competitive gymnast sustained a severe head injury in November 2009 during a fall from the high bar at a gymnastics studio near Modesto where she and her family live.

“It was Nov. 4, and late in the day. She was doing a maneuver called a ‘giant,’ and came off the high bar and hit her head funny. It wasn’t like she was out cold or anything,” her father, Mark Cunha, said.

“Her coach was always really careful with them, and called the paramedics,” Cunha continued. “The medics were uncomfortable treating her and decided to fly her to UC Davis. If they had taken her to one of the ERs in a local hospital she probably would have died.”

Hailee Cunha was transported to UC Davis Children’s Hospital via helicopter, where it was discovered that she had an undiagnosed platelet disorder that had caused massive bleeding on her brain, requiring surgery. She would be in and out of the hospital for treatment for the injury, most recently in July of 2012.

Hailee and family
Hailee Cunha with her family: father Mark, mother Jimmie and brother Chase.

Once while hospitalized, Hailee received a donated blanket from volunteers. “She called it her ‘smile blanket,’ because when she got it it made her smile,” Cunha said.

Last week, Hailee and her father and mother, Jimmie, as well as her brother Chase, 17, brought 100 ‘smiles’ for patients in the Children’s Hospital —blankets all handmade by Hailee, her family and friends. Cunha said that Hailee called it her “Smile Project.”

“She said every blanket is a smile,” Cunha said.

Cunha said that the family and their friends spent eight hours on one day making 90 of the blankets. “If you count all of the shopping and all the prep work, I would say that we easily spent 300 hours” on the project.

The blankets were distributed to patients on Davis 7 and Davis 10 last week, with the help of the Child Life Department.

The Cunha family and family friends made 100 blankets for delivery to children's hospital inpatients.

The Cunhas have much to be grateful for. Though Hailee can’t participate in gymnastics any longer, the athletic teenager now counts swimming as her sport, her father said.

“Hailee is an amazing young lady with a vibrant personality and a giving heart,” said Diana Sundberg, manager of the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department. “It is no surprise to me that Hailee has undertaken such a big event.  We are incredibly grateful for her efforts and are always thrilled to see her and her family.  They are wonderful people.”

“She knows how lucky she is,” Cunha said. “It’s been a long road getting her back to where she is now, but it couldn’t be better as far as her outcome. Nobody walks away at 100 percent,” he said. “But this is about as close as you can get.” 

UC Davis Children's Hospital is the Sacramento region's only nationally ranked, comprehensive hospital for children, serving infants, children, adolescents and young adults with primary, subspecialty and critical care. It includes the Central Valley's only pediatric emergency department and Level I pediatric trauma center, which offers the highest level of care for critically ill children. The 129-bed children's hospital includes the state-of-the-art 49-bed neonatal and 24-bed pediatric intensive care and pediatric cardiac intensive care units. With more than 120 physicians in 33 subspecialties, UC Davis Children's Hospital has more than 74,000 clinic and hospital visits and 13,000 emergency department visits each year. For more information, visit