A garden in the sky

A garden in the sky

Family Respite Garden signageJust outside the fourth floor of OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois an oasis awaits. Fresh air and sunshine and flowers popping color. The smell of blossoming trees. Rocking chairs in the shade.

Thanks to the vision of Lynn and Gerald Flaherty, patients and families can open a door to the world outside. The couple felt strongly about the need to support people who face long and stressful stretches within the confines of the hospital setting. They know; they have been there.

“We are parents of three premature sons,” Lynn explains. “We know the long hours involved in their early care.”

The Gerald and Lynn Flaherty Family Respite Garden, which was opened and blessed five years ago this August, boasts views of the skyline toward the river. When patients and families break away from hospital hallways into the wider world, they can change their perspective. They get breathing room, too. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered.

Powerful medicine

Gardens have a secret power to soothe and refresh us. “I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains,” wrote the late neurologist and author Oliver Sacks in an essay published this past April in the New York Times, “but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens […]. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.”

Lynn concurs, saying, “We believed that children and their parents would benefit from the chance to ‘step out’ from the hospital environment and enjoy the fresh air and pleasure of a garden setting.”

But back in 2014, multiple challenges threatened plans for the garden. Still, Lynn was convinced of the need for it. “It seemed like an ideal opportunity for us to get involved,” she says.

Persistent passion

Flaherty GardenIf you ask Tom Hammerton, President of OSF HealthCare Foundation, about Lynn’s vision for the roof top garden, he reflects fondly on her determination to make it happen.

“Lynn would not take ‘no’ for an answer when she was told that we didn’t think we could put the garden on one of the roofs of the hospital because of the helicopter updraft,” says Tom.

“She told me, ‘Tom, we put a man on the moon so I‘m pretty sure you can figure out how to put a garden on a roof,’ and I said, “You’re right, Lynn!”

Tom knew he couldn’t let Lynn and Jerry down, and he knew just the guy to help make their dream a reality. He turned to the late Ron Jost, who was Vice President of Strategic and Facility Planning for Saint Francis Medical Center at the time. Tom told Ron what Lynn said, and Ron got right to work on solving the problem. The answer to the updraft problem was a case of engineering meets creative design. As a result, the garden has colorful circular canopies that deflect the updraft, provide shade for visitors, and offer a whimsical look to the environment.

Five years ago, two parents saw an opportunity to open up the world of the hospital—a world they knew all too well. Their generous gift of $500,000 was instrumental in creating a garden in the sky in which families and patients can be lifted up.

“We are thankful for the privilege of helping to provide the Family Respite Garden for OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois,” Lynn says.  We certainly are thankful for their gift, and their vision.