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VOL. 127 | NO. 117 | Friday, June 15, 2012

Stories of Hope

‘Once Upon a Heart’ chronicles 60 years of Le Bonheur’s undying spirit

By Aisling Maki

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Inside Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital at 50 N. Dunlap St. is a corridor known as the Wishing Wall, where patients and their friends and family are invited to write down their wishes and prayer requests and leave them on the wall for the hospital’s chaplains.

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, which opened its $340 million facility in 2010, is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a book launch and picnic this week.   

(Daily News File Photo: Brandon Dill)

“These petitions are rooted in the essence of who we are at Le Bonheur – an institution devoted to healing the body, mind and spirit of children,” Chaplain Jack Conrad, manager of Le Bonheur’s Spiritual Care Team, writes in “Once Upon a Heart,” a new book about the Memphis-based children’s hospital. “Le Bonheur is a special place where wishes, prayers, blessings and hopes never die.”

Conrad’s story, “Wishing Well,” is one of 60 stories featured in “Once Upon a Heart,” a heartfelt collection of 60 stories spanning the hospital’s first 60 years.

The book will be available for $10 starting Friday, June 15, at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, with all proceeds benefiting Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. It will also be available in digital form through the Amazon Kindle store in late June.

“We think of Le Bonheur as a family, and that’s what families do – they collect stories and photo albums,” said Meri Armour, president and CEO of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, who commissioned Le Bonheur communication specialist Katherine Whitfield to write and edit the book celebrating the hospital’s 60th anniversary.

Contributors include current and former hospital staff, former patients, and parents of former patients. Some contributors were interviewed by Whitfield while others wrote their own stories, weaving through the book a tapestry of themes and voices.

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital – the only children’s hospital within a roughly 250-mile radius of Memphis – first opened its doors in 1952.

In 2010, Le Bonheur opened its new $340 million, 12-story, LEED-certified facility, whose campus is 50 percent larger than the previous one, with 255 beds and room to expand.

“It’s such a trajectory of success,” Armour said. “It’s something people in Memphis can look back on and be proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Each year Le Bonheur serves about 200,000 children, the majority of whom are under five years of age. Although most patients come from a six-state referral area, the hospital has served children from all 50 states and many countries.

“It’s a heavy obligation and a responsibility that we take very seriously,” Armour said. “We’re ever so grateful to be able to do it. We think it’s a real privilege to take care of kids.”

The stories included in “Once Upon a Heart,” most of which are well-known among hospital staff, range from the touching to the humorous to the humbling.

They include the therapy dog that inspired a little girl with severe burns to walk again; a nurse’s recollection of comforting a grieving father who’d lost his infant son; and a teen’s recollection of the life-saving liver transplant he received as a young child.

There’s the story of the little boy with AIDS who came to Le Bonheur in the 1980s and became one of the first participants in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital HIV treatment program, and an ode to the late Eulila Flinn, a Le Bonheur employee who ran the Le Bonheur Clothes Closet, giving surplus pajamas, socks and other items to families in need.

And the book includes the amusing tale of a large cricket named Thor, which night nurses adopted as their mascot and regularly sent through the hospital’s tube system in a specimen cup to visit all the units.

And while the book includes a few light-hearted yarns from over the years, it also gives current and former employees a platform to express the life-changing impact working in the hospital has had on their lives.

“Each child is a unique creation, and I am overwhelmed by the trust that parents place in us each day to treasure them and protect them,” writes Elesia Turner, who’s worked in several roles at Le Bonheur since 1979.

Emmett Bell Jr., who was Le Bonheur’s first resident physician in the mid-1950s, writes that he “wanted to be a pediatrician ever since I was a Boy Scout. I knew there was no way I could do anything but take care of children. Nothing can make you feel more special than saving a baby’s life.”

In addition to the launch of “Once Upon a Heart,” Le Bonheur Friday is celebrating 60 years of service with a huge picnic on its front lawn for current and former staff and their families.

“The real crux of what makes this hospital work and why it’s so great are the people who work here,” Armour said. “The staff, the doctors, and all the people who went before and are here now really are the lifeblood of this place. They make it happen. They’ve established the culture, our values, and who we are.”

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