It was the week of Thanksgiving. Emma Grace Heppner was just 3 and was not feeling well. She came to the emergency department at Mercy Hospital Springfield, where doctors determined her hemoglobin level was low. No one suspected at first she might have leukemia, but about three weeks later, Mercy hematologist/oncologist Dr. Francisca R. Fasipe tested her bone marrow. By Christmas Day, Emma Grace was fighting for her life. “We were so sick to our stomachs that day,” said her mom, Marcy Heppner. “Emma was all dressed up in her Christmas dress and long ponytails and she was throwing up. It wasn’t at all how we planned that day.”
Now 7, Emma Grace has been cancer-free for more than a year and her last visit to Mercy was very different from her first. Not only is she healthy, kids like her now have their own space – designed just for their needs.
“It’s colorful and happy and not scary looking at all. It’s more like a hotel,” said Emma Grace.
That is exactly what designers dreamed children would say. Local children, Mercy doctors and leaders cut the ribbon today on Phase I of the new children’s hospital. Located in the east wing of the main hospital, this part of the building caters to kids. The entrance features a “lantern” of windows for abundant sunshine during the day and a warm glow from within at night. There are places to play and quiet areas. “We love the entrance area with all the windows and sunlight that comes through, plus the seating areas are amazing,” Marcy said.
Something else visitors can’t miss: the new “Mercy Kids” sign on the outside of the building. Mercy Kids is a network of children’s care. It isn’t just a hospital for when children are sick. It’s a team of people who keep children healthy and reassured, whether they’re at the doctor for a check-up or in the emergency room. “The best family doctors and pediatricians are connected to our network of specialists. We’re all focused on healthy childhoods,” explained Dr. Joseph Kahn, president of Mercy Kids. “From skinned knees to complex childhood cancers, we’re here for your family.”
The new spaces also allow patients and families to be there for each other. It’s what Emma Grace noticed most during her trip through the new Jane Pitt Pediatric Cancer Center, a St. Jude affiliate clinic. So often during her treatment days, she would walk the halls in the old unit looking for someone who could share a game or craft project. “A lot of weeks that appointment was our only outing,” explained Marcy. “It was our only time to communicate or play with other people and we really looked forward to our clinic days.”
Now, kids who feel well can get their treatments together while watching a movie, playing a video game or doing crafts. “The open area allows kids to see others just like them, getting blood transfusions or chemo,” said Marcy. “I think when kids see other kids battling cancer it empowers them and helps them to be brave. It also helps them feel normal in the midst of being ‘un-normal’ outside the clinic. It becomes a comfortable place then – not scary.”
Remodeling continues as the east wing of Mercy Hospital Springfield is transformed into a dedicated pediatric hospital. Phase II of the construction includes a new pediatric unit and pediatric intensive care unit, a test and treatment area dedicated to children, and the expansion of the neonatal intensive care unit.
“As a pediatrician, our work on this wing is especially exciting for me,” said Dr. Robert W. Steele, president of Mercy Hospital Springfield. “While we’ve been an accredited children’s hospital since 2000, this facility will offer us the ability to continue to grow, particularly as we add pediatric specialists.”
Already, Mercy Kids in Springfield is home to more than 50 pediatric specialists whose areas of expertise include everything from hematology and oncology to neurosurgery, orthopedics, gastroenterology, behavioral health, psychiatry and more. “Our greatest desire is to be able to care for children’s needs, right here at home,” explained Dr. Steele.