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A New Kind of Children’s Hospital

Courtesy Nemours

Timber Branagan preferred the orange light. No wait, the green light. Oh, and the red too.

“I loved all of them!” the six-year-old says enthusiastically. Choosing a custom color for her hospital room was one of Timber’s favorite perks at Nemours Children’s Hospital, the new 60-acre health campus outside Orlando. Her mom, Andrea, adds that her daughter preferred the purple light at night.

Timber also made full use of the 10,000-square-foot garden terrace on the fourth floor. She was admitted with a mystery illness, having suffered through six weeks of debilitating headaches that left her sleeping 18 hours a day. By Day Three of her six-day stay at Nemours, the physicians had it figured out: encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. By Day Four, she was racing her older brother around the terrace’s 40-year-old, 6,000-pound live oak.  

Set amidst a wooded expanse of central Florida, with theme park roller coasters peppering the horizon, Nemours Children’s Hospital is arguably the new high water mark for pediatric care in the United States. It’s a hospital that believes nature—and its healing properties—is as valuable as any IV or pill.

“Hospital in a garden” is how chief medical officer Lane Donnelly, M.D., describes Nemours, which opened October 22, 2012. It’s a concept underscored by the many nature-centric touches. The floor-to-above-ceiling windows flood the rooms and public spaces with natural light, not dull fluorescence. The two rooftop terraces feature obstacle courses and walking paths. The one-acre discovery garden is built around the senses: Fragrant flowers bloom in the section dedicated to smell; a few steps away, the ears are engaged by xylophone benches and percussive art.