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Customized for kids

After their daughters’ long hospital stays, David Millington and Brian Schepperle decided to help make hospital rooms more kid- and family-friendly.

Two dads have made children’s hospital rooms a little more like home with Adopt A Rooms

Brian Schepperle and David Millington have spent a lot of time in hospitals.

Schepperle’s daughter, Katelyn Elizabeth, was in and out of the hospital many times during her 10-year battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of blood cancer, before she died at age 11.

Millington’s wife, Dana, once spent 63 consecutive days in the hospital with their daughter, Madison Claire, who had spinal muscular atrophy. The degenerative disease attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord and took Madison’s life when she was 2.

Even when hospitals became the center of these families’ lives, the patient rooms never had the warm, lived-in quality of home. Schepperle visited several top children’s research hospitals across the country looking for the best care for Katelyn before moving his family from California to Minnesota in 1999. Everywhere he went, he found small, uninviting rooms with no sense of privacy.

“There was a lot to be desired as far as being a home-away-from-home,” Schepperle says.

He believed that had to change.

Motivated and energized

In the fall of 2004, Millington approached Schepperle at a golf club where they are both members, knowing that Schepperle, too, had lost a child to disease. As they talked, Schepperle described his ideas for creating family-friendly hospital rooms for children. The rooms would be colorful, customizable, and bigger—with more space for families.

Millington was instantly energized. That week, he shared Schepperle’s idea with his neighbor, Chuck Knight, who worked for the architectural design firm Perkins + Will. Knight’s response: “You can’t just do a room—you have to do a whole floor.”

From there, things moved quickly. Millington and Schepperle asked a group of hospitalized children what they’d want in an ideal room: Better beds, video games, and a way to see outside were among their wishes. Then the two dads raised money through events and secured corporate donations of equipment and resources to help create the first two Adopt A Room prototypes—named to inspire other donors to sponsor additional rooms—at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, Fairview.

The timing was perfect, Millington says. Plans for a new home for the children’s hospital were in the works, and those involved were excited about incorporating these state-of-the-art Adopt A Rooms into the plan. But more than that, Schepperle and Millington wanted to create a more positive experience for kids who are seriously or chronically ill—those for whom the hospital is a major part of their lives.

“When a child gets really sick, you want to go to the best place you can,” says Millington. “And most of the time, that is a research hospital like the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital, Fairview.”

A bedside console in the Adopt A Rooms, designed by Perkins + Will, gives children control of the lighting and color of their rooms, while the larger room size gives families more space.

Giving back some control

While other donors financially support research that can lead to better treatments for childhood diseases, Schepperle admits that he doesn’t have the patience.

“I wanted to do something that had an immediate payoff,” he says. “I thought, ‘Let’s help some families. Let’s make an ill child’s time on this planet a little bit better.’”

The Adopt A Room suites include large-screen TVs for watching movies, table space for playing games or doing homework, and control of a rooftop zoom camera for exploring the outdoors. Children can control the lighting and color of their rooms from touch-screen computers at their bedsides.

“Children lose control of their lives when they are diagnosed,” says Schepperle. “We wanted to give a little of that control back to them.”

Millington, for one, is proud of how far the idea has come in the three years since he and Schepperle met. “We’re just a couple of dads,” says Millington, adding that their wives, Dana Millington and Kristen Schepperle, have been their quiet partners through it all. “This was just what Brian and I had to do to ease our pain.”

All patient rooms in the new children’s hospital facility will be private and 390 square feet in size, about 75 percent larger than the hospital’s current standard rooms, says Russell Williams, the hospital’s vice president of the patient experience. They’ll also be family-friendly, with more storage space, in-room office areas, mini-fridges and microwaves, and sleeper sofas to make overnight stays more comfortable for families.

Transforming a patient room in the new children’s facility into an Adopt A Room will cost $300,000, which includes funding for upgrades and maintenance as well as naming opportunities.

So far, the two prototype rooms have received rave reviews from young patients and their families.

“Children like the control they have in the rooms, and families appreciate being able to stay together during their child’s hospitalization,” says Williams. “The kids want all hospital rooms to be like Adopt A Rooms. Working with the Minnesota Medical Foundation and the Adopt A Room dads, we’ll aim to grant their wish.”

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