SIOUX CITY | A giraffe with multi-colored spots peeks out from behind a tree trunk to lick a Bomb Pop.

A fuzzy blue bunny, flanked by a cloudy blue sky, sits underneath a yellow flower fashioned from Popsicles and scoops of ice cream.

This treehouse dreamland created by Wells Enterprises, the makers of Blue Bunny ice cream, yogurt and frozen treats, was unveiled for the first time this week at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's. It's one of three theme rooms in the hospital's pediatric unit where children can stay as they recover from illness and injury.

Sioux City Ford Lincoln kicked off the project in November by donating a car-theme room. Then Scheels All Sports funded an adventure room that lets young patients escape to the woods. The room, which features fun outdoor activities such as bike riding, canoeing and tent camping, opened in July.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will unveil a theme room in the fall, while Greenberg's Jewelers has already committed to renovating a room next year.

"It has hands-down transformed our unit," said Anne Holmes, St. Luke's Children's Miracle Network director. "We knew it would change the stay for kids and really change their attitude and their outlook and provide something new for them."

Sioux City Ford Lincoln approached Children's Miracle Network in 2015 asking how the car dealership could increase its commitment to the nonprofit organization and inspire other area businesses to do the same.

Holmes thought about it.

Then, one day as she was walking down the hallways of the pediatric unit, the idea for a patient room renovation popped into her head.

"I don't think it's any secret that when you're a kid it's no fun to be in the hospital," she said. "Wouldn't it be fun to have something else to look at in your room more than just a white wall or a gray wall or a blue wall?"

With businesses and organizations willing to make $15,000 investments, the hospital began transforming rooms in the pediatric unit one by one. Holmes said the goal is to renovate all 12 patient rooms. She said three rooms can be redecorated and refurbished each year.

Holmes said donor involvement varies. Wells Enterprises came up with the design for its room, created the wall decals and hired a custom painter to paint the skyline, grass line and ceiling.

Jeff Stanley, senior VP and chief administrative officer for Wells Enterprises, said the company's creative team started with a blank palette in April. After coming up with a tree house concept, he said they pitched it back to St. Luke's in late May and "they loved it."

"It's gonna be a 3D-type effect, so they've designed the floor and the ceiling so it feels like you're in a tree house," he said. "The intent is make it feel like it's anything but a hospital room for a child."

Cindy Running, a clinical practice expert for St. Luke's, said the colorful, fun environments that the theme rooms provide lift young patients' spirits. Instead of falling asleep after surgery, she said children want to be awake exploring the room with their eyes from floor to ceiling. Even though they're staying in a room made of hospital-grade materials that meet infection control standards, Running said the environment feels like home, not a sterile setting.

"Once you feel up to it, you want to get up and move around and check out the giraffe and feel the tree," Running said of the Wells Enterprises room, which is also equipped with closet space that gives the appearance of a refrigerator stocked with flavors of Blue Bunny ice cream.

Holmes said research has shown that a child's environment plays an important role in the healing and recovery process. She said a happy, soothing environment can lower blood pressure, decrease pain and increase comfort.

"If kids can better manage things like their blood pressure and their stress level when they're in the hospital, it ultimately can lead to a shorter recovery time. That's what we want," she said.

Running said hospital staff enjoy working in the theme rooms and using the design elements to engage patients and their families.

In the Sioux City Ford Lincoln room, children can turn a steering wheel affixed to the wall, play with a magnetic stoplight, sit at a red desk equipped with the controls of a car dashboard and stare at the glow of a neon-lit Ford Mustang logo.

"I've had a couple of teenage boys stay in the room and they've really commented how at night that they found the Mustang light kind of mesmerizing and soothing for their stay," Holmes said. "I think we've been able to somehow -- maybe it's part magic, part miracle, part luck -- find something that appeals to everybody and every age range within each room so far."


Health and Lifestyles reporter

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