In 1907, Queen Anne’s Anna Clise put the touch on nearly two dozen
of her wealthy friends — each donated $20 — and Children’s Orthopedic Hospital was born.
Clise had lost her 5-year-old son in 1898; she had personally checked out Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, where her physician cousin had founded a crippled-children’s ward.
Three lots were bought on Queen Anne for less than $6,000.
When plans for a Fresh Air House became known, some neighbors objected, claiming deformed children would hurt property values. The Fresh Air House opened in 1908 anyway.
Three years later, operations moved next door to 100 Crockett Street.
In April 1953, Children’s Orthopedic moved to its new campus in Laurelhurst; Seattle stalwart Dorothy Bullitt chaired the relocation committee.
Composer and pianist Alan Menken, whose Academy Awards include
scores for “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” entertains
at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Photo courtesy of Seattle Children’s Hospital
Charles Dickens, in “Bleak House,” coined a piercingly apt phrase
for his time and ours: “telescopic philanthropy.” In our time, it means doing good by dashing off a check or slapping on a bumper sticker (see “Free Tibet”). Others, however, are driven by the need to do more.
Few places in Seattle test a person’s commitment to emotional risk in the name of serving others than the volunteer program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, which houses 254 patient beds.
For those volunteers, the rewards run rich and deep. Spending three hours a week with sick children — some are terminal — not only gives worn parents a respite but brings volunteers from all walks of life together to share a difficult but rewarding experience rarely available in the busy world outside the hospital grounds.
The 24-acre, complex at 4800 Sand Point Way N. E. is such a Seattle landmark — it’s easy to forget, or not think hard about, what goes on inside.
The hospital’s still, calm center is its small chapel, a small room filled with natural light featuring stained-glass art, books of inspiration and solace and rows of chairs facing each other. On every third or so chair sits a box of tissue
Near the windows is the chapel’s centerpiece: a big, blank book, big as a medieval manuscript, where people write messages.
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you,” reads one. “Thank you for another day,” reads another. “Each day is more blessed than the last. (Name withheld) had a great day. Bless all those who are in need.”
And this: “I love you, bro. Don’t leave me. Not now.”
Outside, above the chapel door in English and Spanish, is this message: “Peace to all who enter here.”
The top reasons for hospital admission include asthma, chemotherapy, seizures and pneumonia. Volunteers, who fill three-hour slots once a week, play a quiet but vital role in this universe
Those hours can be stressful, emotionally draining and heartbreaking — 70 percent drop out of the program within the first year for a variety of reasons, but the difficulty of interacting with seriously ill children is one.
Alison Garrison, 50, manager of Seattle Children’s volunteer services and its 725 volunteers, once worked for Princess Cruises. Garrison grew up in Bothell and remembers how, as a little girl, she accompanied her father to the hospital when he brought bunnies to show at Easter.
“You could do that then,” she said, laughing.
Garrison started out as a volunteer and worked her way up to run the program, exchanging her focus from luxury, shipboard berths to the world of children’s sick beds. She characterizes the initial meeting with a potential volunteer as “probably one of the most meaningful things to my job.”
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