Patient names forever part of new Akron Children's Hospital building

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

There are names the doctors, therapists, nurses, cafeteria workers, volunteers and others at Akron Children’s Hospital never forget.

Certain patients and their families forever touch the lives of the staff who care for them.

Now the hospital is taking steps to make sure those names and their stories are a lasting part of an ongoing $200 million construction project on the campus in downtown Akron.

Construction crews are spray-painting the names of 200 current and former patients in 24-inch-high stenciled letters on the concrete beams of the new addition.

“This will be a wonderful collection of what Akron Children’s is, has been and will be in the future,” said Gretchen Jones, director of principal giving for the Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation, which is coordinating the Graffiti Project. “It is a total cross section of what we have been and what we want to celebrate.”

Some of the names are survivors; others lost their battle but still left a permanent mark.

“I hope they’re cheering for us, looking down,” said Shelly Brown, senior major gifts officer for Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Hospital officials unveiled the first two dozen names during a ceremony Wednesday on the campus.

“I’m famous!” yelled Cory Michalec, 9, of Tallmadge, pumping his fist in the air in excitement.

Cory and his twin sister, Katie, were patients in the NICU for several months after their premature birth. The twins have continued to use the hospital’s services over the years.

They were nominated to have their names on the new hospital facility by a staff member in the hospital’s foundation, which benefits from an annual Wine and Wishes event organized by their parents, Greg and Tiffany. The fundraiser has generated $1.1 million to support the hospital over eight years.

Now the former NICU patients will always be part of the building that will eventually house a new unit to care for premature and critically ill newborns.

“It’s neat,” their mother said. “We spent a lot of time here.”

Hospital employees, volunteers and donors were asked to write 300-word essays to nominate current or former patients for recognition. The essays eventually will be compiled into a book.

Hailey Casler, 5, of Ashland, earned the honor of being the first name painted on the addition.

She spent the first eight months of her life in the hospital’s NICU after weighing 11½ ounces at birth six years ago in December. The hospital helped her get coverage from the state-run Medicaid program after private insurance reached a $1 million lifetime maximum.

As a newborn, Hailey stayed in an incubator that philanthropist Eileen Burg donated to the hospital in honor of her late husband, Peter, the former FirstEnergy chief executive and a Children’s board member. The hospital bassinet is inscribed with the same saying on his headstone: “Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead.”

After receiving a photo of Hailey in the donated incubator, Burg met Hailey and her parents, Heather Kanzig and Jason Casler, and stayed in touch with them over the years.

Today, Hailey is a bubbly, energetic kindergartner whom her father proudly notes performs in the top third of her class.

Burg urged the hospital to recognize Hailey and her family with its Graffiti Project.

“These parents are so valiant,”she said. “Hailey is a miracle. Her family will always know her name is there.”

Children’s broke ground this spring on the 368,735-square-foot addition, which will house a new emergency department, outpatient surgery center and 100-bed neonatal intensive-care unit, as well as a new unit for high-risk labor and deliveries.

The patient names, visible from Exchange Street during the project, eventually will be hidden as construction is completed in 2015.

“They will all get covered,” Jones said, “but they will always be a part of the building.”

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or Follow Powell on Twitter at


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