Surgery Center of Fairbanks pediatric unit gets mural makeover


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A view of the new Pediatrics Operating Room at The Surgery Center of Fairbanks is shown. The kid-friendly, hand-painted scenery by local artist Felicia Johnson is combined with character stickers to create a virtual movie montage that carries through the exam and prep rooms through the halls and into the operating room.

AP Photo/Eric Engman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

FAIRBANKS — A stroll through the new pediatric area at the Surgery Center of Fairbanks feels more like a visit to a cartoon museum than a colorless medical unit.

Spongebob Squarepants is there, along with Winnie the Pooh and Dora the Explorer. Mickey Mouse and Goofy welcome visitors into a room, and a long path of painted moose tracks weave down the walls and ceiling of a hallway. The elaborate scene winds through two exam rooms and a procedure area at the Peger Road medical facility.

The mural, painted during a two-month period by local artist Felicia Johnson, is about more than just decoration. Since the area opened in September it’s contributed to a surprising new vibe, said the staff at the Surgery Center.

“Surgery can be stressful for anyone,” said administrator Dawn Ferguson. “It definitely makes it a more comfortable environment.”

The facility offers a variety of outpatient procedures, such as tonsillectomies or ear surgeries, that often came with a heavy dose of anxiety for the young patients. Dr. Dave Flory, the center’s anesthesiologist and medical director, said he would routinely provide pre-surgery sedatives to stressed-out children.

No more. Kids are too preoccupied by the castles and cartoon characters that surround them to worry about the procedure ahead, he said.

“Nurses are telling them about finding Mickey,” Flory said. “They feel like they’re going to Disneyland. The tears stop.”

Disney is notoriously unwilling to allow reproduction of its characters, so the cartoons are represented by jumbo-sized decals. Johnson said her challenge was to blend those pre-made characters into an elaborate background that includes castles, forests and oceans.

“I love bright colors — I had so much fun,” Johnson said. “The whole project was awesome. I’m very privileged that they asked me to do it.”

The only original character is a moose that serves as the area’s mascot. The procedure room has “Murphy the Moose’s Castle of Dreams” above the door, and visitors are given a small stuffed moose as a souvenir of their visit.

Surgery Center president Dr. Mark Wade said he doesn’t know of another surgery atmosphere like it in the United States. The benefits have been more than he’d anticipated.

“Kids love it — that’s what we wanted,” Wade said. “Their eyes brighten up. It takes the fear right out of them.”

Wade declined to say how much the transformation cost, although he said it involved “a lot of money.”

“Worth every penny,” Flory said. “Really, how can you put a price on a little kid not being afraid?”

Contact News-Miner staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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