OAKLAND – Within sight and sound of the BART tracks and Highway 24, butterflies have found a refurbished home.
An orphaned bit of turf between buildings on the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland campus has become a new focal point for not just butterflies but hummingbirds and humans, too.
It’s the Butterfly Garden, just steps away from what used to be the entrance to the main wing of the hospital. Reinvigorated and replanted, the area is a place of solitude, shade and separateness for both palliative care patients and staff even as the facility as a whole undergoes expansion and addition.
There are home gardens that are bigger, but for someone like Maddie Holland, the Butterfly Garden is a welcoming place to get away from the poking, prodding and physical therapy that has been part of her daily life since traveling from Fort Worth to Oakland. She is at Children’s while taking part in a clinical trial meant to address a genetic disorder known as MPS (mucopolysaccharidosis).
“I like it out here,” the 26-year-old said, adding when asked that she felt “like I’m about 12” while sitting in the garden. Diagnosed with the disorder when she was 3, her life has been in large part a series of clinical trials that have helped to extend her life. Her brother, Spencer, was 18 when he died of the same disease.
Children’s Hospital Oakland is one of just two hospitals in the U.S. doing the kind of spinal injection therapy Holland needs. She was supposed to be in Oakland for a couple of days’ worth of treatments. Unexpectedly it has been seven weeks away from home now and counting, and she and parents Amy and Steve all have found the garden an oasis away from the treatments.
“It’s nice. It’s quiet out here,” Maddie Holland said between sessions of having fluid injected into her spine. “The other day there were a lot of butterflies.”
Early mornings appear to be the best time for the butterflies to appear, but patients and staff can show up any time. That was the whole idea behind the remodeling, according to Julie Hyson of Skanska USA, which partnered with the hospital on the re-creation of the quiet space.
“It was meant for family and kids, some of whom have spent their entire lives indoors in the hospital,” Hyson said. “There are times when they just need to get out of the hospital, get some fresh air, feel the sun. For some, it’s the first time.
“It’s not limited to just patients, though. There are times when you are just tired and looking for a place that is refreshing. My youngest has spent time out there. I have lost more than one child, and in my time, I didn’t have that place. So I know what kind of a really big impact it can have. I have met some of the patients out there. And that’s exceptionally rewarding,” she said.
Palliative care nurse Mary Willoughby said using the space as a small getaway dates back to the 1990s, but as recently as 2012 the area was in a state of neglect. The redesign and renovation was celebrated at a grand reopening last month.
“It does allow for some privacy,” Willoughby said. “It’s both intimate and open. The plantings were designed to attract butterflies, and lots of them show up.”
Once a year, there is a timely invasion of butterflies. All year long, friends and family members write notes on butterfly-shaped pieces of paper to the children they have lost. Those notes go on a lit tree in the hospital’s Reflection Room. On the second Sunday of December, all those butterfly notes are moved into the butterfly garden.
“All the families that have created butterflies, they write notes,” program coordinator Christy Torkildson said. “Right before the day of remembrance we have a ceremony where we bring all the notes that have been written in the last year, and we hang them in the garden. They are made out of paper; they will go back to nature.
“And on the day of remembrance, all those families create new butterflies.”
And the cycle of life goes on, butterflies leading the way.
Published at Wed, 26 Jul 2017 11:48:03 +0000