The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 23, 2013

Medical center scores big with Lemieux family

JOHNSTOWN — Pittsburgh hockey legend Mario Lemieux and his wife, Nathalie, provide the driving force behind a new children’s play area coming to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.

The Conemaugh Health System’s flagship hospital is the latest beneficiary of Austin’s Playroom Project, funded through the Mario Lemieux Foundation, the foundation and hospital announced.

The playroom project grew out of the Lemieuxs’ personal experience following the birth of their son Austin, who spent 71 days in a Pittsburgh neonatal intensive care unit.

“While we were caring for Austin, there was no place to provide a comfortable calming environment and engage his two sisters, Lauren and Stephanie, who were both toddlers at the time,” Nathalie writes on the foundation website.

“It was on my first Mother’s Day with Austin that Mario and I realized a need for playrooms and began to craft our plan to someday raise the necessary funds to do so in western Pennsylvania and beyond.”

The foundation has created 28 playrooms at hospitals and other health care facilities throughout the Pittsburgh area and beyond. An Austin’s Playroom at Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College and at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., represent the continued outreach, Executive Director Nancy Angus said.

In addition to Memorial, five others are now in development.

The Lemieux Foundation researches hospitals through its selection process, Angus said. As a Level 1 Trauma Center with regional neonatal intensive care unit, Memorial met the criteria.

“Johnstown was a perfect fit for us,” Angus said. “The care they provide for those little babies and their families is exactly the kind of care we want to support.”

Playrooms typically include a reading bench, train table, sand table, aquarium, electronic play area and interactive wall art murals, depending on space available. Memorial’s project is targeted to debut early next year.

 “We are so excited and so honored to have been chosen,” said Susan Mann, president of the Conemaugh Health Foundation. “We are extremely grateful to Nathalie Lemieux and to all of the donors who support the Austin’s Playroom project.”

The project will upgrade play areas in Memorial’s maternity department.

 “We have a beautiful building but could definitely use more color and more kid- and family-friendly amenities in our area,” said April Behory, director of women and child services.

“We have many babies who remain with us for long periods of time. This playroom will be of great benefit to the brothers and sisters who come to visit, along with their parents.”

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