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Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo Adds Cheer

By Victoria Colliver, April 30, 2013

Source: San Francisco Gate

The drab, off-white hospital walls inside the outpatient infusion center at Children’s Hospital Oakland are now a place where rockets soar, dandelion seeds blow and animals carried by balloons float through the painted skies.CHOakland-Space-ship-room-after

The place where children spend hours receiving chemotherapy or other lifesaving treatments was transformed by volunteers over one weekend last month in a hospital-style extreme makeover. The project was organized by Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo, a San Francisco nonprofit that turns dreary chemo rooms into warm, inviting spaces to help make the ordeal more bearable for patients.

Since the group’s founding in May 2011, Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo has transformed nearly 90 rooms in 10 hospitals and clinics around the country and in El Salvador. The volunteers did it all with donated materials, and expertise from designers, artists and people who just wanted to help.

“It’s overwhelming to me that so many people have to sit in these chairs day after day. If it’s one tiny thing I can do to make it more comfortable, that’s enough to keep me going,” said the group’s founder, Nancy Ballard, a San Francisco artist who specializes in botanical paintings. “I can’t help with the cure, but I can help create some lovely surroundings.”

She gave a painting
Ballard came up with the idea for Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo after donating a painting to a doctor in San Francisco who offered infusion and chemotherapy in his offices.

She has not had to undergo such treatments but was just struck by what she considered an environment that offered nothing visual to promote healing. She contacted local interior designers to ask them to help, and the effort took off from there.

Volunteers for Rooms That Rock must do their work in just a couple days, because the centers can’t be out of commission for more than that. They have swooped in to transform the chemo rooms of Marin Specialty Care in Greenbrae, Marin General Hospital, Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, as well as hospital outpatient oncology department and cancer centers in Mammoth (Mono County), Philadelphia, and Parkersburg, W. Va.

Oakland is the first children’s hospital the group has worked on. “When I walked into the unit the first time and I saw a crib in that large community (infusion) room, I just couldn’t imagine a parent having to see their child go through that. It just hit a nerve,” said Ballard, a mother of three who also has three grandchildren.

The project began on the evening of April 19, shortly after the unit closed for the weekend. It had taken just seven months from the organization’s first meeting with hospital administrators to get to this point.

For kids of all agesCHOakland-waiting-room-after
Cora Sue Anthony, an Oakland stager and designer who appears on HGTV, had come up with a theme and designs for waiting rooms. Her ideas would appeal to children, but would not be too babyish for teenagers and young adults who are also treated at the hospital.

Anthony worked with the hospital’s existing jungle theme in the main lobby and carried it into upstairs waiting rooms, where walls now full of color are also adorned with decals of birds, meerkats, a giraffe and a lion. Supplies were donated by various companies, including Home Depot and Art.com.

“The idea is to create outdoor space indoors. It’s one place where people receiving chemotherapy can’t go,” Anthony said. “A 2-year-old will love it; a 21-year-old will love it.”

The designers and artists had to adhere to the hospital’s strict safety policies, which required the use of nontoxic materials and paint free of volatile organic compounds. The volunteers could not paint on Formica surfaces and were not allowed to touch any wires or drill any holes without hospital staff involvement because of the medical gas lines and other complicated systems behind the walls.

Inside the large infusion room, where patients receive intravenous treatments such as chemotherapy, the nature theme shifted to the elements: half the room evokes the sky or air, and the other features water images and colors. The themes continued into four adjacent private isolation rooms, where the walls depicted images of the Earth, the sun, an ocean and sky.
The group even repainted the bathroom with a mural that features Mount Tamalpais, a farm and an elephant.

Andrea Greer, an interior designer, traveled from Seattle to help because the place has special meaning. As an 8-month-old, she was treated at Children’s Hospital Oakland for bacterial meningitis.

“Just so many things were pointing me to come here – because of what I do for a living, because I was treated here as a child, because my dad just passed away from cancer,” said Greer, 40, who designed one of the isolation rooms.

920x920Marsha Heckman, a longtime friend of Ballard’s who volunteered to manage the Oakland hospital project, said the reactions from nurses, parents and kids made the many hours of planning and working more than worth the effort. “I just see the look on the face of a 5-year-old, and it all makes sense,” she said.

When he first saw an elaborately repainted playroom, with a myriad of whimsical animals and plants, Javier Landeros Jr. of Hayward gave the high compliment of “Goody! Goody!” The 8-year-old, who suffers from an enzyme deficiency that has required weekly, five-hour infusions since he was a toddler, announced his intention to draw a zoo.

His father, Javier, was amazed by how quickly the work was done. “It just feels like a different place,” he said.

A family’s reaction1024x1024
For the past eight months, Gene and Darling Navarroza have been making the nearly 300-mile trip from Reno to Children’s Hospital Oakland, where their 3-year-old daughter, Gillian Cate, receives monthly, five-day infusions to impede the potential growth of a rare type of tumor in her brain.

The family gathered in the private room with an ocean theme, complete with under-the-sea plants and creatures. While some of the artistic details may have been lost on little Gillian, her parents loved the new look and were convinced that the soothing colors and lively designs will help children heal.

“It will help them to get better,” Darling Navarroza said. “It’s like our home. So it’s nice that they painted it.”

Transforming chemotherapy rooms
To volunteer, donate or learn more about Rooms That Rock 4 Chemo, go to www.roomsthatrock4chemo.org.

Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: vcolliver@sfchronicle.com

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