Houston TikTok star whose Lil’ Jon display went viral makes holiday light show for Woodlands Texas Children’s – Houston Chronicle
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands.
Much like Santa in his workshop, Frankie To-ong has been toiling around the clock to ensure the holidays are merry and bright for patients and their families.
He began around Thanksgiving, planning an all-out light show on the hospital’s grounds.
“First you pick the music you want to play,” he said. “There’s a way to sequence the lights where they turn on and off to the music.”
Then, he began designing the light show. In total, there are 4,250 pixels, divided between candy canes, Christmas trees and glowing arches installed in the hospital’s lawn.
“It took some time to do,” To-ong said. “Once you set it up, you it plug into a computer. And that’s where the programming comes in.”
Every night, the structures are illuminated, and the lights are animated to move to the music from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Radios are available to the children so they can tune in and listen — or sing and dance — along.
He installed everything by Dec. 1 to debut the spectacle for hospital patients and staff. But because of supply chain issues, some of his equipment did not show up until the last minute.
“It was down to the wire, but I pulled it together,” To-ong explained.
For the debut, ballet dancers performed routines from the Nutcracker, Santa Claus appeared and children were invited to sip hot cocoa.
“When we were outside and started the show, we looked up and could see the kids watching and waving,” To-ong said. “I don’t even know how to articulate it. It’s so special.”
Later, some of the children stopped and asked, “Is this really for us?”
“It just pulls at your heart strings,” To-ong said. “We want to do everything we can to give them the feeling of Christmas. The intention is to take their minds off of whatever else is going on.”
And it served its purpose for Malia Johnson, 11.
Only a few days earlier, she underwent seven hours of spinal surgery for scoliosis. She was still recovering the day the light show started.
“She was having a hard time,” her mother Ebony Johnson said. “It actually made her feel a lot better.”
Ebony was not sure Malia would make it outside to the show.
“But she was very excited and walked all the way down,” Ebony said. “She must have forgotten all about her back pain.”
Malia loved watching the dancers and donning the 3D glasses that turned the lights into snowflakes.
“She thought that was the coolest,” Ebony said. “And that Texas Children’s was the best hospital ever.”
Dedicated to Texas Children’s
Texas Children’s is a special place for To-ong. When his daughter, Piper was 3, her mother Angelyne took her to the doctor. “She wasn’t feeling well, and she had a fever,” To-ong recalled.
Soon, the family discovered Piper had a heart murmur. Her cardiologist found an atrial septal defect (ASD), or a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of her heart
In 2018, at age 5, Piper underwent open heart surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Medical Center.
“It’s one of those things where you do want to wait, but you also don’t want your little one to do heart surgery,” To-ong said.
The doctors and nurses at Texas Children’s eased his worries.
“They’re amazing,” To-ong said. “And we were so appreciative of that. Everything the hospital did for us was top-notch. It makes me emotional just thinking of everything they did for us.”
Since the To-ong family lives in Spring, Piper, who is now 8, attends her annual follow-up visits at the hospital’s campus in The Woodlands.
To-ong said his daughter is proud of her scar and likes to show it off.
“It’s like she’s a super hero,” he said.
Piper loves to swim, and as she glides through the water, To-ong remains in wonder of the heart that propels her onward.
“It’s amazing to watch,” he said.
To-ong remains devoted to Texas Children’s for helping his daughter.
His former employer Newfield Exploration also was a big supporter of the hospital — the third floor is named for the company, and employees regularly commit to philantrhopic activities at Texas Children’s.
Three years ago, two of To-ong’s co-workers, Jennifer Powers and Brooke Westall, asked if he would DJ a party at Texas Children’s. While pumping out melodies for the celebration, he noticed an unadorned outdoor space through the windows.
“They have a courtyard, I bet I could do a light show and maybe it would turn into something,” To-ong thought.
He pitched the idea to Powers.
“Tell us what you need – and how much – and I’ll look into it,” she responded.
Bringing holiday cheer to patients
To-ong is also known as “H-town Frankie” – and he’s kind of a big deal. He used to be a DJ and still spins sometimes for events and birthday parties.
Online, To-ong has a new place to shine. He likes to be “silly,” he explained, and his Instagram posts often have more than 100,000 views.
In 2012, To-ong began using his DJ skills for a whole new purpose – matching beats to animated lights for Christmas.
He assembled a soundtrack of Houston hip-hop instead of the traditional carols. Before long, he gained a reputation for having the trillest decorations in town. Even rapper Paul Wall visited.
To-ong’s videos of his decorations went viral on social media. And when he offered to do a light show at Texas Children’s in 2020, Powers used those Instagram and TikTok posts to prove what To-ong was capable of doing.
The executive team at Texas Children’s approved – and the volunteer services team facilitated the installation.
Juanna Brandon, director of patient care services, was with the lights when the show first debuted last year.
“You could see the excitement, even from the downstairs windows,” she recalled.
The children were waving dancing along with the music, all listening to the radios in their rooms.
Brandon was happy to hear that To-ong return this Christmas.
“We just got so much positive feedback,” she said. “When you have a child and their families in the hospital during the holidays, you want to give them as much normalcy as possible,” she said.
To-ong helped them do just that.
“It reminds you that there’s a lot of good in the world, that there are still people who want to make a difference,” Brandon said. “And that’s refreshing.”
To-ong is creating a program to run the light show in the future, if he needs to pass the baton.
“I’ll make it as easy as possible for them to do it for years to come,” he said. “But I’d love to do it for as long as they want me to.”
To-ong hopes the display brings holiday cheer to the staff, who have worked around the clock during the pandemic.
“I think of the kindness of the health care workers,” To-ong said. “They didn’t know who we were, but they treated her like she was their own daughter.”
He wants the let staff know they are appreciated – and hopes the holiday display will bring them joy, just as it does for patients and their families.
Last year, To-ong received a gift from a child — a drawing of the light show.
“And that was priceless,” he said.
Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.