Azalea queen, fest royalty visit young hospital patients

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New Hanover Regional Medical Center Mariah Hansley, six, swaps crowns with NC Azalea Festival queen Anna Kooiman during her visit to the hospitals pediatric ward Thursday. Photos by Hilary Snow.
Mariah Hansley, 6, swaps crowns with NC Azalea Festival queen Anna Kooiman during her visit to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s pediatric ward Thursday. Photos by Hilary Snow.

Six-year-old Mariah Hansley knows one thing for sure: She is going to be the next Miss Wilmington.

The princess-in-training, who already has her parade wave down pat, received some special bedside well wishes from area royalty Thursday afternoon.

This year’s NC Azalea Festival queen, Anna Kooiman, and members of her court crowded into Mariah’s room at New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC) to brighten her day.

It was one of several stops for the recently crowned queen and her entourage, and an annual tradition of the N.C. Azalea Festival. Ahead of their visit to NHRMC’s Betty H. Cameron Women’s and Children’s Hospital, they stopped at Ogden Elementary School and the Brigade Boys and Girls Club.

Kooiman, Miss Charlotte Allison Farris and Miss Thomasville Taylor Cuthbertson color with awestruck six-year-old Camia Bethea, who suffers from a chronic lung disease.
Kooiman, Miss Charlotte Allison Farris and Miss Thomasville Taylor Cuthbertson color with awestruck six-year-old Camia Bethea, who suffers from a chronic lung disease.

“It’s very therapeutic for them to have visits, especially ones like this,” registered nurse and pediatric administrative coordinator Cara Emerson said of patients in her ward. “It takes their mind off the reason they’re here.”

The queen’s arrival certainly made an impact on Mariah, who was anxiously awaiting the visit – wearing a crown and waving a wand, naturally.

She, along with fellow six-year-old princess fan Camia Bethea, were awestruck when Kooiman placed her towering crown on their heads. Mariah even swapped with Kooiman, giving her plastic crown to the Azalea Fest celebrity.

After a few a capella rounds of “Let it Go” from the wildly popular “Frozen” and, in Camia’s case, a little bit of coloring book collaboration, Kooiman and court members left the girls with autographed photos.

“It means so much to these children and their parents,” said Martha Harlan, NHRMC director of marketing and public relations.

Harlan said other groups of Azalea belles, princesses and their escorts stopped in to see young patients like a two-year-old “bundle of energy who loves Iron Man” and the hospital’s youngest patient, who was born on Valentine’s Day weighing less than two pounds.

The 69th annual NC Azalea Festival officially got underway Wednesday, with Kooiman’s coronation. It continues through Sunday with, among other events, a garden party, parade, street fair and fireworks.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.