Yenula Arya Hennaka, a six-year-old boy who had a tremendous zest for life, died on February 24 in a hospice residence in Ohio, after a fierce two-year battle with cancer.
Brimming with love and affection for his family and fellow students, the gifted student looked with enthusiasm to his days at PS 35, the Clove Valley School in Sunnyside where he had a special affection for science projects — and would complete nature experiments with joy.
‘No ordinary child’
The son of Chathurika and Pradeep Indika Hennaka, Yenula was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in July 2020.
Over the last year he was undergoing treatment at the Cleveland (Ohio) Children’s Cancer Clinic for Ewing Sarcoma, a type of cancer that occurs in the bones or in the soft tissue around the bones and typically is found in children and young adults.
The Hennakas, who reside in St. George, are Sri Lankan immigrants.
The youngster’s father, Pradeep, a transportation driver, immigrated to America some 20 years ago.
And his mom, Chathurika, a pre-school teaching assistant, came to this country a little more than eight years ago.
Yenula was born in Staten Island University Hospital.
“On Feb. 24, 2023 Yenula went back to where he belonged,” said his mom, Chathurika.
“It was obvious from his birth that Yenula was no ordinary child,” she added.
“From the hand in his very first photo, taken just after he was born, to the way he finally waved goodbye to us, he was extraordinary.”
She explained his thoughtfulness, kindness, and creativity were extremely rare and not often seen in a child of his age.
Wind of Escape is a collection of poems written and illustrated by Yenula
“And in the very short time he spent here on earth with us, he made stories, and movies out of those stories, and wrote his own songs and poems. That’s all while fighting this beast of cancer for two years during his 6-year life span. He was loved so much and everywhere he went, even those who had never met him were so affectionate toward him.”
Throughout Yenula’s treatments, doctors and nurses were floored by his resilience and thoughtfulness.
Yenula bravely underwent treatment for more than two years.
According to his aunt, Sriyani Pathirena, he became ill in July of 2020 at a time when his parents were unable to obtain an appointment with their pediatrician, and was diagnosed after an emergency room visit.
He endured a surgery, having one of his ribs was removed, as well as chemotherapy, radiation and a clinical drug trial.
Yenula and his parents stayed at the Cleveland Ronald McDonald House, where they received lodging free of charge.
“We could hide nothing about his condition,” Chathurika said.
“He always managed (and fought to) keep an ear for the conversations and took down every word of it. He knew everything about his body and he could sometimes tell it even before doctors figured it out,” she recounts.
Survivors and services
Yenula is survived by his parents, Chathurika and Pradeep Indika Hennaka, his aunt, Sriyani Pathirena, and loving relatives and friends and teachers from PS 35, who became like family during Yenula’s difficult journey.
Yenula’s family delivered a heart-wrenching message: “Yenula, we will miss you so much and hope that we meet you once again on the other side one day. With love, Mama, Dada, Anta, Sisi and Chandu.”
Photos: Chathurika Dharmadasa