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…catch [doctors] trying to draw a map of a child’s mind, which…keeps going round all the time.

There are zigzag lines on it…probably roads in the island, for the Neverland is always more or
less an island, with astonishing splashes of color here and there, and coral reefs…and savages and
lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs…and a hut
fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose.
—J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

Family Children’s
American Family
Children’s Hospital
American Family Insurance, a
Madison-headquartered company,
made an initial $10 million

donation to the hospital and has
contributed $15 million to date.

Plays Nice

Play can be the most Hospital last August and is by no means

integral part in a child’s healing process, and your average children’s hospital. Once
from the moment you step inside the doors housed on the fourth floor of the University
of the American Family Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, the chil-
in Madison, Wisconsin, you begin to feel dren’s hospital is now a 225,000-square foot,
much better. The state-of-the-art, world-class full-service child healthcare facility.
hospital replaced the former UW Children’s

44 | ccn august/september 08
All photos courtesy of American Family Children’s Hospital

First floor
The first floor of the hospital is
a charming mix of old and new
Wisconsin with a movie theater
(left) and a train depot.

equipped with two washers and dryers, a lactation room, and

a family-style kitchen.
While the American Family Children’s Hospital is more
than prepared to take care of any child’s medical needs, they
also realize that the children and their families have needs that
go beyond the physical ailments.
“The child isn’t the disease,” said Mary Kaminski, director of
patient and family services. “It just comes along with them.”
She explained that having a child in a hospital can be a
trying time for not just the child but the entire family. “It is
a very abnormal time for the family and what we try to do at
the hospital is give them a sense of normalcy,” she said. The
hospital offers a number of programs and amenities designed
to allow both the children and their families to carry on their
normal everyday activities while the child is treated at the hos-
pital. And for a child, one important component of everyday
Though the magnitude of the hospital may be slightly in- life is play, and the hospital’s Child Life program is designed
timidating for a child, the ambience is a friendly and playful with that in mind.
flirt with the imagination. The visual theme of “All Things
Wisconsin” choo-choos its way through five floors of the hos- Child Life Program
pital’s interior, giving a country to big city vibe. The ground The Child Life program uses play as an important tool to
floor and main lobby with its etched farm glass panels, tractor aid in both the psychosocial and emotional care of a child. The
tire track print floors, train depot, and gift shop resembling program is staffed and run by certified child life specialists
an old-time community drugstore, evoke the small commu- who can tailor activities to suit a particular child or age group.
nity feel of a town square. Across from the hospital’s main en- Three playrooms—one in the diagnostic therapy center and
trance, a vibrant marquee flashes neon lights over the Pierce others on the fourth and fifth floors—allow patients and their
Family Theater where patients and families can enjoy a film or families to play games, read books, or just have a space to be
DVD during their visit. The main lobby, just outside the the- together. The playrooms are available for use 24/7 with adult
ater, is designed with UW’s Memorial Union Terrace in mind. supervision. An old idea in the medical community used to be
Families can relax on the patio tables and chairs while their that children in hospitals were there to get well and not there
child marvels at the faux sugar maple tree that looms over park
benches in earthy autumnal-colored foliage. Around the main “When children play, they go to a place of
lobby is the Lake Michigan beach area with a water- and sand- discovery, exploration, or to simply have fun.
colored floor that harbors a replica of the 74-year-old Fond du They forget about where they are and their illness.”
Lac Lighthouse that also acts as a playroom. Each floor of the —Mary Kaminski, director of patient and family services,
hospital is decorated in a different motif to reflect different ar-
eas of Wisconsin, such as farms, prairies, and woods. American Family Children’s Hospital
The architecture of the hospital is designed to not only aid
in a child’s healing, but to also engage parents in the health- to play. Kaminski argued that play, in any form, can be an in-
care of their child. The rooms have doubled in size from the tegral component of children’s recovery because it allows them
previous children’s hospital and now include a pullout couch, to connect to the world outside the hospital.
parental workspace with a small desk, two sinks per room, “When children play, they go to a place of discovery, explo-
and cabinets to hide oxygen and monitoring hookups when ration, or to simply have fun,” said Kaminski. “They forget
not in use—tools that would normally intimidate a child. about where they are and their illness.”
The hospital also has café room service, a laundry room

ccn august/september 08 | 45
Looking good
The Positive Image Center helps
children heal by helping them
look and feel like themselves.

hospital school, their children wouldn’t have graduated on

time with the rest of their classmates,” Kaminski said.

Positive Image Center and Flashes of Hope

Illness and injury can often have a profound impact on a
child’s appearance and self-esteem. Scarring, weight changes,
and hair loss can cause children to become withdrawn and de-
pressed because they look different and they are afraid of how
others may view them. The Positive Image Center helps them
maintain a healthy positive self-image by helping them look
and feel like themselves again.
The cafe is a great place to pick The Positive Image Center is essentially a mini-salon that is
up a healthy and nutritious snack. open to all hospital patients three years old and up. Patients
can relax and enjoy themselves while they get their hair styled
Drawing a picture, using distraction techniques, and/or play- and their makeup done. A collection of wigs, caps, and scarves
ing a board game with a staff member does wonders for morale are available to help cover up baldness due to chemotherapy or
and can provide a much-needed connection to another human neurosurgery, and an on-staff cosmetologist can teach them
being. “Playing a game is just the activity,” said Kaminski. “The how to apply makeup to mask scars or lessen the impact of
real payoff is the intimacy that develops between the child life spe- other appearance-altering treatments. Kaminski explained
cialist and the patients, which attempts to maximize their ability that even if children don’t need any of those things, the simple
to cope while providing them a bridge to something normal.” act of caring for them is enough to improve their mood and
outlook. She spoke of a child with cerebral palsy who came in
Hospital School to have her hair washed. “Sometimes children with cerebral
Another important aspect of children’s normal life is their palsy have a hard time relaxing,” said Kaminski. “But as soon
schooling. And while at the hospital, the hospital school helps as the warm water hit her hair, you could see her body instantly
ensure that the children don’t fall behind in their lessons. relax. The transformation was quite remarkable.”
The school is open to all ages of students from kindergarten Children can also celebrate their lives by taking a family
through high school and is staffed by three certified teachers photo. Flashes of Hope is a nationwide program that offers
from the Madison Metropolitan School District. Each teacher free professional portrait services for families of children fight-
specializes in a particular age group and can provide instruc- ing cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Once a month, a
tion in a wide variety of subjects. Instead of holding tradition- team of volunteer photographers and stylists take over a clinic’s
al classes, the teachers work closely with the child’s regular waiting room and turn it into a full-service photo studio com-
teacher to tailor a lesson plan specifically suited to the
child’s needs. Normally, this involves helping the chil- Education
dren with their homework, which their school sends The Hospital School keeps the
kids on track with their studies.
to them, or following a lesson plan that their regular
teacher provides.
“Our teachers can provide the kind of one-on-one at-
tention that they wouldn’t normally be able to get in a
regular school because of their illness,” said Kaminski.
Their efforts have not only helped students keep up
with their classes, but have allowed them to make a
seamless transition back into regular school when their
treatment is over. “Parents have said that without the

46 | ccn august/september 08
plete with mini-makeovers and wardrobe. These black-and-
white portraits taken by award-winning photographers help
the children feel better about their changing appearance by
celebrating it.
The Positive Image Center is the only one of its kind in the
country because it caters exclusively to children and has been
well received by many others in the hospital industry. “Many
of the hospital executives that have toured the hospital love the
center and have left saying that they would like one of their
own in their hospital,” said Kaminski.

Family Resource Center Tyler’s Place

When the new American Family Children’s Hospital was The famous Fond du Lac
Lighthouse stands outside
built in 2007, the Family Resource Center was included to give of Tyler’s Place. A play space
parents a space to learn more about their child’s illness and is dedicated to the patients’
treatment while maintaining their normal routine. The center brothers and sisters (left).
combines an educational and business center complete with
four computer workstations, a fax machine, copier, printer, said Kaminski. “Parents think that their children are handling it
and free wireless Internet access. The center’s library features very well, but when you ask the children they say that they are
an extensive resource collection with materials ranging from struggling to cope, especially during routines where the parent is
medical journals and textbooks to books about how to cope an integral part of the activity.” To help bridge this mental and
with the unique emotional challenges of having a child in the emotional gap, the hospital has Tyler’s Place, a special program
hospital. The workstation computers also come pre-linked to a dedicated to the welfare of the siblings.
number of general and disease-specific Web sites. A medical li-
brarian is on staff to help direct parents to the specific materials “Learning about their child’s disease and its
they may need or answer questions that they may have. treatment is comforting to parents because it
“Learning about their child’s disease and its treatment is
comforting to parents because it allows them to become more
allows them to become more active participants
active participants in their child’s treatment,” said Kaminski.
in their child’s treatment.” —Mary Kaminski
Gaining this information allows them to speak with the doc-
tors on more equal footing, and sometimes that dialogue can Tyler’s Place is located on the first floor of the hospital and
lead to different treatment options that may have not been con- features a replica of the famous Fond du Lac Lighthouse on
sidered before. one side. Much like the other playrooms, it is filled with games
The Family Resource Center also houses the Kohl’s Safety and activities that the patients’ brothers and sisters can take
Center, which offers child-safety equipment for the home and part in when they cannot stay with their siblings. Tyler’s Place
car and sporting activities like biking and skiing. All the equip- is also the home of Club Sib, a child support group for the sib-
ment is sold at cost, and parents also receive training in how to lings of the sick child. It is run by a sibling coordinator and
use the equipment correctly. Jim Savage, manager of the center, a therapist who play with the children and encourage them
said, “Education about child safety is just as important as the to talk about their feelings and the particular difficulties they
products that we offer.” may have because of their brother’s or sister’s hospitalization.
The American Family Children’s Hospital is designed to en-
Tyler’s Place hance the quality of life for children and their families who are
When a child is hospitalized, the parents’ attention may natu- in the healing process. In a child’s imagination, playfulness
rally be focused on the child, leaving his or her siblings feeling and its overwhelming gift to bridge make-believe worlds with
lonely or abandoned. “It’s surprising to see the kind of disconnect reality is what connects them to the world. This place is where
with some parents’ conception of how their other children are children go to be themselves. ¶
handling the illness versus what the children are actually feeling,”

ccn august/september 08 | 47

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