How often does one see a family tragedy transformed into a project aimed at uplifting the lives of thousands of children and their families? In Valhalla, New York (Westchester County), just such a project opened its doors last year. The Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center has become a touchstone—not only of healthcare design for children, but also of wide-ranging community support, generosity, and love of children. More than 20,000 local-area residents—including some famous people and about 100 local schools—donated their time and talents, along with cash contributions and special memorabilia totaling upwards of $40 million, to realize the vision of Maria's parents, who lost their daughter to a catastrophic rabies infection in 1995.

Recognizing that an excellent clinical staff was functioning in a substandard county hospital, John and Brenda Fareri envisioned a family-centered children's hospital offering the most supportive environment possible for people experiencing the direst of circumstances. From its “fantasyland” exterior to its unique displays and collections within, the hospital named after their daughter Maria is the result of that vision. What follows is a guided tour of the highlights of Maria Fareri Children's Hospital by Bruce King Komiske, FACHE, a hospital administrator who oversaw this unique community development effort for seven years. Komiske has pursued his expertise in healing environments by opening five new hospitals altogether during his career, and he is currently working on his sixth major project—a children's, women's, and cancer hospital at the University of California, San Francisco.

“The exterior doesn't look like a hospital. John and Brenda wanted it to look uplifting and positive, to make kids feel good about going there. There's an interesting story—one that reflects both on the exterior and the special interior attractions of the hospital. A four-year-old girl who had had open-heart surgery was required to return to the hospital a week after discharge for some further attention. Her mother was reluctant to break the news to her, fearing she would be depressed by this. Instead, her eyes lit up and she said to her mom, ‘I can't wait to go back!’ That, to me, was the true test.”

“It was important to make it clear that parents are as welcome in the facility as the staff. Parent lounges and staff spaces are arranged adjacent to one another in “neighborhoods” of eight to ten rooms. Parent/staff interaction is easy, and parents get the message that they are not visitors, but partners with the staff. All patient rooms have beds for the parents.”

“There are so many exciting things to see for kids and adults, and the interesting thing is we had no money in the budget for any of this. We sought out people we thought would have something creative to offer and received these wonderful donations.

“The first thing you see as you enter the lobby is a 6,000-gallon water feature, with varieties of tropical fish supplied by The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk (which were arriving at the time of publication, thus explaining the ‘staged’ fish in the photos). At the other end of the lobby is the FUJIFILM performance theater, over which hangs Rachel Feinstein's dramatic Satinstein (‘Rainbow Bridge’), originally displayed in the lobby at Sotheby's.

“Elsewhere around the building we can see a diesel locomotive donated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; a History of New York Baseball exhibit created by former big-league baseball star David Cone, with memorabilia collected by David from all five baseball teams in New York's history and featuring inspiring stories of individual Yankees; the colorful Companions in Courage Room, donated by hockey great Pat LaFontaine and Microsoft; a kid-friendly medevac helicopter donated by the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project; a yacht salon from designers Sparkman & Stevens; and a fire truck donated by Catherine Tegtmeier and Kathy and Ray Nichols.”

“The story behind what has become the largest dollhouse in the world is one of one creative donation leading to another. It began with Wendy Weinreb and her family; in gratitude for the medical staff's care of her son, she came up with the idea of selling individual dollhouse rooms, or shadow boxes, which purchasers could then design and decorate themselves at $100 apiece and return to the hospital.

“It wasn't that long before we had 400 rooms donated from all over the country. Then Dan Adler, a local builder, designed a little ‘city’ to accommodate these rooms, which eventually took form as a 400-room dollhouse. This, in turn, inspired Mrs. Judy R. Rosenberg, a lifelong doll collector, who contributed dolls from all over the world, to occupy specially designed and funded space near the dollhouse exhibit. And it wasn't long after that when Gretchen Pulverman, another generous collector, in this case of antique doll furniture, offered pieces from her collection to complete the scene in yet another exhibit. All these displays are in various places on the first floor or lining corridors; there isn't a ‘boring hallway’ in the building.”

“To call this place unique is an understatement. While there are and will be new children's hospitals opening throughout the United States, I feel confident in saying that the passion of John and Brenda Fareri and the outpouring of community support make Maria Fareri Children's Hospital one of a kind.” HD