Emery Dennis-Lima sat under a tent in his front yard to say hi to all the friends and family who drove by to wish the 7-year-old a happy birthday June 30. What he didn’t expect was the line of police vehicles that showed up to celebrate with him.
The drive-by party was held in lieu of a real get-together — in part, because of the pandemic, but also because Emery has been in a leukemia battle since January and his blood counts have been low.
Emery’s mother, Jennifer Dennis, had arranged for friends to pass their house on golf carts or in their vehicles, but one of Dennis’ friends made a last-minute phone call to the Winter Garden Police Department to see if the officer who patrols the neighborhood would be available to stop to wish Emery a happy birthday.
Sgt. Jerald House did even better — in addition to Officer Jacob Gilzen, he sent nearly a dozen vehicles, including the K-9 unit, to the Dennis-Lima neighborhood in Winter Garden.
“My son was overwhelmed at the time, but later he was really excited about it,” Dennis said.
Officers gave Emery several officer’s badge stickers, they spoke to him for a few minutes, and they showed him one of the cruisers. At 7, his observations were that the sirens were loud and the computers in the cars were cool, and he was surprised that so many people knew of him.
Dennis said the original plans were to stay at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.
Emery is about six months into his two-year treatment.
“It was definitely devastating news to our family when it happened,” Dennis said of the diagnosis. “But he’s been an incredible patient. Everybody at the hospital loves him. He’s a tough kid.”
Emery is a student at Innovation Montessori Ocoee but had to switch to hospital homebound when the leukemia was discovered. Students who are in the homebound program must withdraw from their regular school — but Dennis said Emery’s teachers included Emery in the remote classroom setting.
When school starts in the fall, Emery will need an extra few weeks to finish his active treatment and then is cleared to attend class in person. He will begin a maintenance treatment for 18 months.
Emery is the son of Jennifer Dennis and Jose Lima, and he has two older siblings, Xavier and Indira — all of whom enjoyed the drive-by birthday celebration.
“I just really wanted to praise the sergeant and the officer and the police department, because with everything going on in the news, they really demonstrate community involvement,” Dennis said. “They deserve special recognition for being truly officers of the community.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.