Columbus, Oh,
17:38 PM

OhioHealth Proud to Welcome Families to Alex’s Sunnyside Playroom on the Riverside Methodist Hospital Campus

Family-focused area made possible thanks to gift from late doctor’s family

OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital has opened the doors to a new playroom that will give patients and their families a safe space to play, create memories and spend vital time together while their loved ones receive care.

The new space, called Alex’s Sunnyside Playroom, was made possible by a gift from the family of the late Alex Porter, MD, a physician, husband, and father lost to cancer in 2019.

During the 14 months he lived with leukemia, Dr. Porter wanted more than anything to be with his family. His treatments and the hospital environment kept the young anesthesiologist from seeing his daughters, however, and when he died, “his children lost time they will never get back,” his wife Gwendolyn says.

“It was horrendous. It’s devastating to children and to patients who are fighting for their lives. The reason Alex wanted to fight to live was to see his children grow up,” she says. “I think it was really painful for him to be separated from them. It would have been nice if there had been a place for us to be together.”

Such a place now exists at Alex’s Sunnyside Playroom at Riverside Methodist Hospital following a private ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the playroom this summer.

Gwendolyn, an occupational therapist, met Alex at Riverside Methodist while they were working on the same unit – ironically, the same hospital where 10 years later he received the news that he had B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer that starts in the bone marrow. His two daughters were 3 and 5 years old at the time.

None of the hospitals where Alex received treatment allowed children under 13 in clinical areas and the father who cherished nightly story time went weeks and sometimes months without seeing his little girls.

He died while participating in a clinical trial at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA.

Six months later, on the couple’s wedding anniversary, Gwendolyn filed the necessary paperwork to create a non-profit organization aimed at helping families like hers. In the instances when children can visit, “there is nothing for families to enjoy together while in the hospital. I felt like it was a call that I needed to do something,” she says.

Unlike the confines of a hospital room, the woodland-themed space is designed to stimulate the imagination. It features overhead lighting resembling skylights, a glass wall on which to draw and cabinets full of activities for children sorted by age. Egg-shaped chairs, animal motifs and child-sized activity tables are there to make children and their families feel at home and give them space to relax, laugh, play, and spend time together.

The idea came to Gwendolyn during a trip to Lake Tahoe to scatter Alex’s ashes. She and her daughters were at a restaurant called the Sunnyside Café, where the girls drew pictures of families in the hospital with rainbows in a space they named Alex’s Sunnyside Playroom.

Alex’s Sunnyside Playroom at Riverside Methodist is located on the first floor near the main lobby and is accessible to patients with physical limitations, such as wheelchairs and IVs. Gwendolyn is looking forward to the day patients and families can come together in the special rooms she helped create in her husband’s memory.

The playroom is a natural extension of Riverside Methodist’s patient-focused philosophy and the trend toward caring for those with more complicated illness, says Tom Harmon, MD, vice president and chief of medical affairs for the OhioHealth Clinical Enterprise. “As our capabilities at Riverside advance, sicker and sicker oncology patients will be in our hospital. This is an opportunity to provide support and respite. It’s not just the patient in the hospital bed we’re treating, but the entire family. We want to wrap our arms around all of them.” The playroom also “is a heartfelt way of remembering a beloved colleague.”

Funding for the project came from a variety of sources, including the hospital’s medical directors and critical care team, as well as therapists, nurses, associates, and multiple physician practices.

To learn more about Alex's Sunnyside Playroom, click here here to read a Columbus Dispatch feature story on the new space.