Fun Center helps kids pass time at hospital

Scott Hilyard

Alexa Frazelle, 10, sat cross-legged atop her bed Thursday morning with a Wii controller in her hands and a smile on her face as she pounded her father, Randy Frazelle, in a friendly game of Mario Party 8.

But she wasn't on her bed at home. She was on her bed in her room at Children's Hospital of Illinois at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. The Wii system, which doubles as a DVD player, is known as the "Fun Center" and is available to help pass the sometimes scary and uncertain hours of children in the hospital. The Wii Alexa was playing, the hospital's third, was rolled out Wednesday. The other two have been around for more than a year.

"We have a Wii at home, and I'm actually pretty good at this game," said Alexa, a fifth-grader at Wilder-Waite Grade School, who was feeling pretty good on Thursday after being admitted to the hospital Sunday for tests.

"I'm not," Randy Frazelle said.

"This is really a great thing they have," said Catherine Frazelle, Alexa's mom. "Everything they do here is amazing. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else."

The new Fun Center is a mobile video game and DVD player connected to a small flat-screen television monitor. Patients in Children's Hospital can request one of the three and keep it in their room until they decide they are finished with it, or are discharged. The unit can be rolled to the patient's bedside.

"The Fun Center is a huge distraction technique," said Hillary Jacobs, of Child Life, the hospital's department that focuses on reducing the stress and anxiety of the young patients. "The unit stays in their room and they play with it as long as they like. We don't take a Fun Center from a child who wants to play with it."

Dee Gaines, the coordinator of Child Life, said the Wii games are particularly appropriate for a children's hospital.

"With a Wii, you don't just sit there and game," she said. "You've got to move and groove, it's a workout, and it keeps the children active."

The donation of the $4,250 Fun Center was coordinated by the Starlight Children's Foundation - Midwest, a group that helps seriously ill children and their families cope with their pain, fear and isolation through entertainment, education and family activities. More than 6,000 Fun Centers have been sponsored by companies, foundations and individuals and are being used in hospitals across North America.

The units are made by Nintendo exclusively for Starlight and are constructed so that nothing can be removed or lost.

"These are great because everything usually has legs and walks out of hospital rooms," Jacobs said. "This is designed so that not even the DVDs can be removed from the unit."

"It's also infection-control friendly," said Terra Johnson of Starlight. "Easy to clean."

The money for the hospital's third Fun Center came from fundraisers sponsored by Woodforest National Banks of central Illinois.

Scott Hilyard can be reached at (309) 686-3244 or shilyard@pjstar.com.