Making rooms for kids.


Last Friday, my butler Mike and I were guests of the Mario Lemieux Foundation and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation to tour the hospital and talk about Make Room for Kids, and I wanted to just sort of share with you why we were there, what we saw, and what we decided to do with that there $14,000 of money you gave us.

We’re going to Vegas.

I kid.

Now, I don’t want you to think that we took your money and then nothing happened.  I have been going back and forth with Mike and the Foundation for months as they worked with the hospital to determine how best to use the money to bring gaming to the children.

On our visit, they showed us Matt’s Media Room which was funded by a mother who lost her young son to cancer.

They showed us the Lemieux Sibling Center.  Toys for every age. Air hockey table, of course, above which hangs a Stanley Cup Fathead autographed by various Penguins.  A gaming section with couches, a TV, and a Wii.  I even spotted a Rock Band guitar.

Finally, they showed us Austin’s Playroom, named after Mario and Nathalie’s son.  It is a beautifully decorated, bright, sunshiny room with computers, toys, a huge fish tank, portable Wii and more.

We were standing in that playroom, talking in a circle, when a young boy, perhaps 6 or 7 years old with blond messy hair, walked through our little group of people.  He was wearing pajama pants and his hospital gown was gaping open at the back.  He was hunched over, possibly from pain, and was walking slowly. So slowly.  He hobbled through our circle and we parted to let him out the other side where he made his way to a cabinet and opened it up to reveal just about every board game you can imagine.

The conversation of our circle picked back up as the child chose his game and slowly and silently shuffled away, but, like, my heart turned around in my chest and watched this little boy, even though my back was to him as he sat down at a table to play the game.

This is how it was for about ten minutes.  I was involved in the conversation taking place before me, but there was a whole separate part of me that was completely aware of and focused on this child behind me.  I can’t explain it.  I watched him without seeing him and I just wanted to hug that little kid and every little kid I saw.

But I’ve digressed.

There were floors and rooms discussed; however, when it came down to it, the children who are the sickest and who have the most lengthy stays at Children’s are usually not able to get out of their rooms to enjoy the playrooms already established throughout the building for the more mobile, less at-risk children.

What we have decided to do is focus on bringing gaming to the sickest of the kids.  The room-confined children.  The children who sometimes have to be isolated from other patients.  The children with the longest hospital stays.

Matt’s mother did this for the oncology floor, and after speaking with the foundation staff and the hospital staff, Mike and I agreed that we thought you would like to use your money to bring gaming to the transplant floor.  Floor 7. And this being Pittsburgh, the home of Thomas Starzl, AKA The Father of Modern Transplantation, it seems appropriate.

Right now, children who have transplants at Children’s have at their disposal a TV with cable and on-demand movies.  There are a few laptops they can use, but those laptops are for the entire hospital and that means they have to wait for them to become available.  Same goes for the portable gaming.  They have to wait.  This is why Matt’s mother outfitted the oncology floor.  Matt was in the hospital for over 100 days before he died, and he was continually waiting for a Wii to become available. She didn’t want any children to ever have to wait.

I don’t either.

Transplant children have pre-transplant stays, transplant stays, and post-transplant stays.  They are isolated at times while their bodies accept their new organs.  When we were in the sibling room, the employees were wiping down each individual marker with a disinfecting wipe.  You can see how seriously they take the spread of germs in that hospital and you can see why some patients cannot take advantage of the common rooms for play.

What we are going to do is this:  Purchase a game console for every transplant room, either XBox 360s or Playstation 3s because they also play DVDs (and even Blu-Ray, in the case of the PS3) that they may have brought from home.  In addition, we will purchase 10 handheld gaming devices, likely DSs or PSPs.  We will also purchase 6 to 8 Toshiba Toughbooks for the transplant patients to use to play online games, surf the net, or check their emails.

All of this will be dedicated to the transplant floor only.  That means no more waiting and that means these children who cannot leave their beds or rooms can still enjoy some downtime gaming while they’re alone or bored.  We’ll also supply that floor with a huge pool of games for both the in-room consoles and the handhelds.  So every child who comes to the hospital for a transplant can game on their in-room TV, or on a handheld, or on a laptop that won’t break even if they drop it.

Does that sound good to you guys?

We’re still “Making Room for Kids,” we’re just making 24 rooms for specific kids. For now.  I’m thinking to do the fundraiser again this Christmas so that we can start outfitting more of the hospital this way, since they seem to be pretty well taken care of when it comes to common play areas, but not so much when it comes to in-room entertainment.

I know we originally said one room.  One big room.  But why give the hospital something it doesn’t need as much, not when what the kids want the most is something to do in their rooms?

More details will be finalized in the coming weeks, including what exact gaming systems we will purchase and if you can donate games, etc.  I’ll keep you posted.

Now were going to go after these items and we’re going to go after deep discounts so that we can afford it all.  If however we come up a bit short … [big grin].



  1. Steelerslover
    February 23, 2010 3:59 pm

    What a great idea!! I’ve toured the hospital before and I know this is where the money is needed the most!! Thanks for everything you did!

  2. laurie
    February 23, 2010 9:05 pm

    Well done lady. Well done.

  3. USCMike
    February 23, 2010 9:08 pm

    Ginny and Mike, just let us know if ‘short’ on $$ is going to be an issue. I’m sure most of us are more than willing to see the whole project through to the end of Phase I (7th floor). Then we’ll start on Phase II, III and so on!

    Noelle, my heart goes out to you for enduring the pain of watching your child slip from your caring arms, yet you still had the fortitude to give something back to the other kids with cancer – you’re a Pittsburgh hero too!

  4. Amy
    February 24, 2010 1:04 pm

    When I was a college student at Pitt, I was a volunteer on the Transplant floor at the old Children’s Hospital, so there’s definitely a special place in my heart for that unit. Thanks for this. I know it will mean so much to so many people!

  5. malbrec92
    February 24, 2010 5:21 pm

    Great job! Just maybe set aside some money (or maybe raise additional money) to keep the equipment in good repair/buy new games/upgrade every few years. Like a maintenance endowment.

    You’re the bestest!

  6. KellzBellz
    May 26, 2010 10:17 pm

    Great idea!! I truly love it. One note I’d like to add though, what about the younger children. I know ALL kids love video games and such, but children under 5 might benefit from something more like V-Smile or Leapster. Just a thought, there may be a few younger ones up there too??

    My 7 year old has spent many days and nights at Children’s and they definitely have a space in my heart for that amazing place for children to heal. The themed rooms and awesome staff make such a difference in their lives, and somehow seem to help a nervous parent as well.

    Good luck in all you do! Our donations are being used in a great way!