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STATE JOURNAL REGISTER

By KRISTI O’BRIEN
CORRESPONDENT

Stephanie Moore Chipman remembers cuddling with her youngest son, Spencer, then 3, on a chair in a family lounge at a hospital while her oldest son, Alexander, then 7, recuperated from brain surgery.

Every small comfort in the lounge, from space for privacy and a calming decor, to the perfect chair was important to Chipman and her family, of Springfield.

After spending several months in 1996 and 2004 traveling to hospitals around the country while Alexander, now 16, underwent treatment for a brain tumor, Chipman became an expert on the finer details of family lounges.

“You might think the arm of chair isn’t important,” Chipman said. “But if you need to share it with your child, if you need to get in and snuggle in that chair, it is important.”

It was this experience and her creative knack that prompted Bob Witter, executive director of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois to ask Chipman to spearhead an effort to develop a Ronald McDonald House Family Lounge for St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield.

The results of the $125,000 project are everything he’d hoped for.

“It turned out really well. We’re very pleased with it,” Witter said. “Stephanie has spent a lot of time staying in hospitals and she is able to see things that people could use that would be beneficial in that environment.”

A board member of the Ronald McDonald House and a hospital volunteer, Chipman jumped at the chance to lead the project.

“Bob said to me that they were just getting ready to consider this concept and asked if I could help,” she said. “It was just remarkable to me that they would let me bring some of these things I had experienced back here to help other families heal.”

Ronald McDonald Houses have brought family rooms to other hospitals around the world. But the space at St. John’s couldn’t accommodate a typical “sleeping room,” called a Ronald McDonald Family Room, that has been added inside nearly 50 hospitals, Witter said.

Still, Ronald McDonald House was given three areas at the hospital to use, including a room near the pediatric intensive care unit on the fifth floor, space near the neonatal intensive care unit on the fourth floor and part of the lobby in the Carol Jo Vecchie Women and Children’s Center.

Chipman had ideas for all three spaces and worked with Resource One, an office design firm in Springfield, to incorporate her ideas.

On the fifth floor, the lounge includes a couch, love seat, recliner, computer terminal, storage lockers, chairs that fold out into beds, a kitchenette and a bathroom with a shower. It is decorated like an aquarium, an idea Chipman got from a trip to the Baltimore Aquarium after one of Alexander’s surgeries.

On the fourth floor, the water theme was carried over with a tropical rain forest décor.

“Water is very tranquil, and we wanted to make that tranquility a common theme,” she said. The water theme came from “the serenity and peace I found on the harbor in Baltimore.”

The room includes lockers, a children’s play area, chairs and a tree that provides separation in the room to help give families some privacy.

The lobby offered the perfect space for one of the most important elements to Chipman, the Ronald McDonald Family Reading Room.

“Literacy is so very important to the well-being of a child, a family and a community,” she said. “Combining a literacy program with hospital services where the minds of children can be touched by a book while their bodies are being healed shows how the mind and body component work together to heal the whole child.”

Chipman said she will always remember when Alexander woke up after his first surgery and could move only one finger; she decided to read him a book.

“He couldn’t play, he couldn’t do anything else,” she said. “But I could read him a book.”

She was able to secure a large donation of books for the reading room. Now hospital patients, as well as their visitors, can go to the reading room and read there or take them back to their hospital rooms.

Chipman said the generosity on the part of donors made the project happen.

“The special place that children and their families will find at St. John’s Hospital (is possible) because of the generous support of so many people who have given to the Ronald McDonald House Charities,” she said.

The lounges and reading room have provided respite many families need while their children are in the hospital, Witter said. Anyone can use the rooms, but they are of great benefit to those families who do not live the required 35 miles away from the hospital to be eligible to stay at a Ronald McDonald House.

The lounges at St. John’s have captured the interest of other Ronald McDonald House charities, Witter said. “A couple others have come here and looked at this concept and wanted to do something at their local hospitals,” he said.

It wasn’t developed as a pilot project, but Witter said he hopes other hospitals are able to set up similar spaces. At St. John’s, he said the rooms are almost always occupied, and have become popular with patients and their families, especially those who are regularly at the hospital.