Caregiving: Sabres provide 'Lion's Den'

By ALEX CUKAN, UPI Health Correspondent  |  March 21, 2006 at 3:18 PM
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ALBANY, N.Y., March 21 (UPI) -- Cancer can be traumatic -- it can be especially traumatic for children -- but studies showing parents and siblings of children with cancer suffer post-traumatic stress symptoms have only appeared in the past few years.

A study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found 99 percent of 150 adolescent survivors of childhood cancer had at least one family member experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and stress symptoms.

But former NHL hall of fame hockey player Pat LaFontaine saw how difficult it could be for some children -- and the families -- that he visited at Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo, while he was a player for the Buffalo Sabres.

LaFontaine visited the hospital often and, even after road trips when other players when home to their families, LaFontaine went to see the children at the hospital and spend some time with those who couldn't sleep.

"Being with these kids -- knowing their smiles, their pain and their courage -- changed my life," LaFontaine said. Later, when LaFontaine had to retire prematurely as a result of a series of head traumas and concussions, he drew upon the courage he saw in the children he visited in the hospital to deal with the most difficult time of his life.

LaFontaine created Companions in Courage Foundation so "No child in the fight for life or health should ever have to go it alone."

CiC's immediate goal is to raise funds to build interactive playrooms in children's hospitals throughout North America. Through innovative communications tools, these playrooms -- designed by Edwin Schlossberg's New York City ESI Design -- resemble an igloo, with translucent screens hanging on the walls and lighting that changes colors.

Pediatric patients receive a CiC "smart" key when they first check into the hospital, and when patients use their key to enter the playroom, known as the "Lion's Den," they are greeted with a gentle flourish of sound and lights.

Children log on to computers using their CiC "key" and they are greeted by name; the "smart" function of the key directs the child to content suitable for his or her age including 150 movies in the system. The smart key also remembers children from one visit to the next.

Each Lion's Den, which costs about $300,000, has multiple computer stations powered by Microsoft software, Xbox game stations, multiple flat monitors, Web cams, a large screen TV and video conferencing capability.

Last August the second Lion's Den was completed and opened on the ninth floor of Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo, as a result of fundraising by the Companion's in Courage and the Buffalo Sabres.

"Opening this Lion's Den is truly my dream come true for the patients here at Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo, many of whom I've had the pleasure to meet and become friends with over the years," said LaFontaine at the opening.

The Sabres held a celebrity hockey game that included actors Dennis Leary and Michael J. Fox, a tournament and dinner weekend in December 2004. A matching donation was made by Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano, the founder of Paychex, a payroll processor.

"We're very excited about the room -- the nurses say that interactive games allow the children to become more involved than just watching TV. But just walking into the room makes you forget you're in a hospital -- it's very colorful, it's like walking into the future," John Moscato, spokesman for Women & Children's Hospital, told UPI's Caregiving. "There is a big screen TV, not just for the children, but siblings and parents can watch together."

The first Lion's Den opened in January 2005 at the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, in Valhalla, N.Y., thanks to fundraising by the CiC Foundation and a contribution by George Ross, Donald Trump's legal advisor, who appears on NBC's "The Apprentice."

Meanwhile, current Buffalo Sabre J.P. Dumont also wants families of pediatric cancer patients to be able to spend time together -- something they may not have much opportunity to do -- so he purchased for $50,000 "Dumont's Den," a luxury box at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo available to more than 100 patients and their families at Sabres home games, according to Mike Gilbert, the Sabres spokesman.

"The patients are members of Carly's Club for Kids & Cancer Research, a program at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (in Buffalo) that helps to improve pediatric patient quality of life programs. The luxury box costs $50,000," Gilbert told Caregiving.

"Dumont has always been involved in Carly's Club, and by donating the use of the box for the families it allows the families to spend time -- at least for a few hours at a home game -- as a family."

Carly's Club was founded by Carly Collard-Cottone, who died in 2002 at age 11 after a three-year fight against brain cancer.


Alex Cukan is an award-winning journalist, but she always has considered caregiving her primary job. UPI welcomes comments and questions about this column. E-mail:

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