After Laura Santiago had spent quite a bit of time as a patient at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, she realized it was missing something.  The 14-year-old Avon High School freshman wanted a place to hang out when her friends came to visit, and she wanted to get out of her hospital room.

 The 8th floor playroom “had little kid toys in it,” Laura recalled.  “I thought wouldn’t it be nice to make a room just for teens?”

 So Laura sent to work with a laptop computer.  She designed a teen hangout room, printed the layout and taped it to her door as a petition.  Soon, Laura had more than 100 signatures.  Patients, parents, physicians, and nurses all signed.  So Laura decided it was time to go see Larry Gold, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to present her plans.  “Even his secretary signed the petition when I went down in my wheelchair to make an appointment,” Laura recalled.

 Being the father of two teenagers himself, Larry Gold quickly saw the merits of the idea.  “It took awhile to get started, but then things started happening really fast,” Laura said.

 A former conference room was designated to be converted to the teen room.  Art consultant, Liz Panke, Child Life staff and the Children’s Environment Committee got involved.  Social Worker, Mary Laliberte, began working with artists from Paul Newman’s “Hole in the Wall Gang” camp on plans to paint murals in the room.  The Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation provided support.  And, Laura’s classmates at Avon High in the “Kids for Kids” program began raising funds to help with furnishings and equipment.

 “It needs a big screen TV and furniture so you don’t feel you’re in a hospital,” Laura said.

 Laura has been hospitalized more than a dozen times in the past year for treatment of a cancerous tumor that grew on her spine.  She’s been hospitalized for chemotherapy, surgery, and complications.  Some stays have lasted as long as two weeks.  So, Laura has had a lot of time to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t for teens.  She especially liked the program “Look Good, Feel Better” in which a beauty consultant provided tips on scarves and makeup for teens with cancer.

 “More CD’s and videos and CD players in each room would be a good place to start,” said Laura, and she would welcome more visits from entertainers whom teens know.  “More comfortable recliner chairs for the infusion therapy rooms would be a plus,” she adds.  Bob’s Discount Furniture donated a black leather recliner when former patient Nikki Giampolo needed one.

 Most important, however, is that the staff understands teens.  “Once they get to know you and know what you like,” according to Laura’s mom, Joanne,  “the staff is “very respectful about the modesty and respecting the privacy of teens.  When Laura’s sick, she wants to be here.  That’s a compliment in itself.  It’s a safe place for her.”