By Alice Reid
Friday, November 30, 2007
They call them "frequent fliers" at Children's Hospital: families with children so sick they've spent weeks, even months, at the medical center. They've come for complicated treatments: chemo for cancer, heart surgery, kidney transplants. The list goes on.
In most cases, parents have hovered at their children's bedsides night and day.
Imagine having a youngster so sick you're not sure he'll survive. Think about holding a frantic 3-year-old as yet another needle approaches. Frequent-flier parents have done it all, usually in cramped double rooms with another very sick child and his very stressed parents close by.
That is all changing as Children's Hospital moves to a mostly private-room layout, beginning with three floors in its new East Tower, which opened recently.
On hand for the debut and a first look at the place were nearly two dozen frequent-flier families. Yes, the colors were boffo, the views stunning. But parents really raved about the space and the seclusion afforded by the wing's 129 private rooms. No more wondering if a wailing child will wake her roommate. No more hiding tears of frustration from another parent six feet away who may be going through something even worse.
Suzanne and John Merrill of Columbia remember when their daughter Amanda, 5, shared a room with another toddler as she fought a dangerous bone cancer in her leg two years ago.
"There you were with a meltdown going on," Suzanne remembered while Amanda sat happily coloring nearby, wearing pink socks and party shoes on both feet, including the one on her new "robot leg."
"Then you'd get her to sleep and they'd come in to take her blood pressure, which she didn't like," Suzanne continued. "You kind of felt sorry for the other people in the room."
Added John: "You were on top of one another."
Jack McGowan, a Capitol Police officer, has had three sons treated at Children's for cystic fibrosis, a serious, often fatal, hereditary lung disease.
"I think the new private rooms are going to make everybody calm down a bit," he said.
"You get some devastating news here. The doctor will come in and draw the curtains and say something like, 'The tests came back. They're not as good as we'd hoped . . . .' The other family is there, listening. They can't help it," he said.
"We just lived there," added Kathy McGowan, who remembers once searching for a washer and dryer so she could do the family's laundry without leaving the hospital.
Today, each floor in the new wing includes a washer-dryer set.
The place includes many a bell and whistle, including flat-screen televisions and extra sleep chairs in every room for two family members to stay the night. A sophisticated ventilation system on the oncology floor, where infection is a constant danger for patients, cleans the air a dozen times each hour. Rooms for patients having bone-marrow transplants are pressurized so that outside -- and potentially dirty -- air can't get in.
But most important is the extra space and privacy for every child and his or her family, said physician Max Coppes, who directs the hospital's cancer and blood-disorders program and had a hand in planning the rooms.
"This wing will deliver the comfort that parents with children with life-and-death diseases deserve," he said.
The wing is typical of the hospital's attention to detail; its care not just for patients, but for entire families; and its vow to embrace the whole community, to never turn a child away.
Top-flight medical treatment is not cheap. The three new floors alone in the hospital's East Tower cost $75 million to outfit, and planning for two more floors is still underway.
At The Washington Post, we're hoping you'll make a contribution to help pay for what Children's does for our community.
How to Help
To donate, send a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, MD 21297-1390. That's the post office box of our bank, Chevy Chase. All funds go to Children's Hospital in Washington.
To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions.
All gifts are tax-deductible as allowed by law.
If you have foreign currency you'd like to get rid of, mail it to Children's Hospital Campaign, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071, and we'll get it to Asset Strategies International Inc. to convert it into U.S. funds.
And US Express will again provide a courier to pick up group donations made by any office. If you need a pickup in the District, call 301-683-9009 and tell the operator that the account code is "ChildP."