'Teen Room' provides some normalcy in lives of ill teenagers

Kaiser Roseville Medical Center updated space to include large-screen TVs, Wii video game consoles, books
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Kiersten Gallagher walks into the Teen Room wearing a hospital gown, an IV attached to her hand. The 14-year-old has leukemia. She’s undergone two rounds of chemotherapy and is preparing for a bone-marrow transplant — one of her brothers is a match. The soccer player and high school freshman from Vacaville has been in the hospital since Nov. 19, says her mother Theresa Gallagher. The teenager remains on the pediatric floor of the Women and Children’s Center at Kaiser Roseville Medical Center as she continues to receive treatment. Kaiser recently transformed the center’s 272-square-foot Teen Room from a bland, gathering space to a comfortable lounge with technological upgrades, including a large-screen television and video games consoles. The goal: Make a hospital stay less miserable. As Kiersten looks around the space, she remarks that the room is “cool,” although she’s not really a fan of video games. The medical center is equipped with wireless Internet, which she uses to communicate with friends via Facebook on her laptop. “It’s really about being patient-family centered,” says Kaiser Roseville Chief Operating Officer Sandy Sharon. “We want to help them have a more normal teen experience versus a hospital experience.” About 8,000 teenagers came through the Women and Children Center’s doors last year, some stayed for a day and some for seven months or more. On any given day, between three and 10 youth are admitted. Patients include those suffering from relatively minor conditions, as well as those battling a terminal illness. Doctors and nurses treat kids dealing with cystic fibrosis, cancer, sickle-cell disease, appendicitis, scoliosis, pneumonia and more. It may seem like a small gesture — packing a room with technology, games, books and entertainment — but this helps teenagers maintain a good life as much as possible. Medical staff says these kids just want what any teen wants — independence, privacy, Internet access. Because when a teenager begins a hospital stay, his life changes and for some, this place becomes their second home. “They want to be able to have a normal life and connect with their friends,” says Traci Aoki-Tan, a child life specialist. Before, the room had only one small television set. The space was better suited for arts and crafts. Now, the beach-themed room features a 47-inch television with a Nintendo Wii, two 26-inch television sets, an iPod dock, two iPods, an iPad and a MacBook laptop. Kids can choose from more than 20 Wii video games, including Rock Band and Guitar Hero. “The biggest thing (they wanted) was a big TV to play the systems on,” Aoki-Tan says. The remodel had been in the works for a year and a half, she says, and came through thanks to a $7,500 grant Kaiser Roseville received about four months ago from the Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation, an organization named for a young woman who died of cancer at 17 years old. As a child life specialist, Aoki-Tan provides psychosocial support to patients in the hospital. She helps them cope with diagnoses, understand medical procedures and prepare for what’s ahead, whether that’s an X-ray, getting their blood drawn or major surgery, so they know what to expect. These specialists talk to siblings and parents. Plus, they help with legacy building, so if the patient passes away, he or she will leave behind memories for loved ones. “Basically, we’re treating the whole family,” Aoki-Tan says. Patient Corey Rosario stops by the Teen Room with his mom, Portia, who says her 15-year-old son learned he had a brain tumor Sept. 27. Doctors have since performed brain surgery and the high school sophomore has undergone chemotherapy. Medical staff asked him for input regarding what items to stock in the new Teen Room. “It’s pretty cool,” Corey says. “The other one was pretty boring.” His mom said Kaiser has been great about accommodating his needs, including when 10 of his closest friends from Vacaville recently came to visit him at once. “That meant a lot to him,” Portia Rosario says, especially considering Corey has missed the last several months of school and spent the holidays in a hospital bed. “As soon as he’s better, we’re going to take advantage of (the room),” she says. Paula Rapetti, manager of Kaiser Roseville pediatrics and pediatrics intensive-care unit, expressed excitement at the new Teen Room. “I’m proud of what the floor does taking care of kids,” Rapetti says. “They do a great job.” But she’s more proud of the teenagers they treat, she says, as Portia Rosario rolls Corey out of the room in his wheelchair. “These kids are amazing,” Rapetti says. “And so brave.” Sena Christian can be reached at