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Hospital's Angel Garden is back for the benefit of children

SALT LAKE CITY — For children undergoing medical treatment, simple pleasures like going outside in the sun is often not feasible.

But Primary Children's Hospital decided to bring nature closer to kids at the hospital. The hospital reopened a bright garden park at its front entrance Monday morning.

"It's a chance to get out in nature," said Katy Welkie, CEO of Primary Children's Hospital. "If you're in a hospital bed for weeks, sometimes months, just being out here and being able to listen to the water, to feel the breeze is an incredible experience."

The park is named Angel Garden after the 1990s TV program "Touched by an Angel." The show, starring actress Roma Downey, was filmed in Utah. Downey was touched by the stories of children at the hospital longing to go outside, so she and the cast and crew raised funds for the original garden, which opened in 2001.

But recent construction of the entrance of the hospital had left the garden in disarray.

Wynter Abby Johnson, whose 4-year-old son receives treatments at the hospital, didn't want to lose Angel Garden. Her son, Dash, was born with a rare heart defect that caused underdeveloped lungs. He underwent open heart surgery at the hospital when he was 5 weeks old.

"This garden has been such a place of comfort and hope for our family," Johnson said.

Johnson said her family often visited the small park after visitng Dash in the hospital.

Last year she suggested that the garden be renovated. Her mother, Juidiith Clawson, began calling companies and businesses to promote the idea of making the garden beautiful again.

"Nature helps people heal," said David Johnson, Dash's father. "It makes you feel like you’re in a different place, in a different atmosphere."

Dash, followed closely by his oxygen tank, helped cut the ribbon for the opening of the park Monday, a year after his mother made the suggestion to renovate it.

The garden park features more than 1,000 new plants and trees, as well as a fountain that mimics a running stream and shallow pond.

"It feels like you’re in the mountains," David Johnson said.

Night Vision, a landscape lighting design company in West Jordan, donated and installed lights for the park. The lights can change colors for holidays and seasons. The garden is accessible year-round, includes wheelchair-accessible pathways and electrical outlets for medical devices.

"This garden is medically safe. That means kids don't have to worry about anything that hurts them," Welkie said.

But the best feature of the park is that it's right outside the hospital entrance, said Jennifer Toomer-Cook, media relations director. Hospital staff can rush outside to help if anything goes wrong while the children are at the park.

The garden renovation was funded by donations from Macey’s Food Stores.

"We know miracles happen each day at Primary Children’s, and as your local grocer, we are humbled to help the children and families at Primary Children’s,” said Darin Peirce, division manager for Associated Retail Operations.

Pendleton Design Management also donated gardening design and labor, as well as future garden maintenance.

"This is a place where staff members, families, patients come to reconnect with nature," Welkie said. "This is a place where people can come and find respite and refuge in their own personal storm."