The Mario Lemieux Foundation Opens New Austin’s Playroom at UPMC Altoona

September 22, 2016

Altoona, Pa., UPMC Altoona and The Mario Lemieux Foundation announced today the opening of an Austin’s Playroom at the hospital, on the fifth floor of the Outpatient Center. The playroom will serve families and their children who are visiting UPMC Altoona.

Nathalie Lemieux, chair, Austin’s Playroom Project; Mario Lemieux, chairman, Mario Lemieux Foundation; Ron McConnell, vice president of operations, UPMC Altoona.; Nancy Angus, executive director, Mario Lemieux Foundation; representatives of Sheetz, the Lead Patron; family members of Cindy Wise; and special invited guests officially opened the 800-square-foot space.

“We are so pleased to open the 33rd Austin’s Playroom,” said Mrs. Lemieux. “Our goal is to reach as many children and families as possible, and we are excited to bring Austin’s Playroom to Blair County.”

Austin’s Playroom Project was established as a result of Nathalie and Mario Lemieux’s personal experience while caring for their infant son, Austin. In 1996, Austin was born profoundly premature and spent 71 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. While they were caring for Austin, there was nothing to engage his sisters, who were both toddlers at the time. It was then Mario and Nathalie realized a need for playrooms and began their plan to establish Austin’s Playroom Project.

Contributors to the UPMC Altoona Austin’s Playroom are:

  • Sheetz, represented by Ryan Sheetz, director, Sheetz Corp. Brand Strategy.
  • Bruce, Justin and Angela Wise, organizers of the Cindy Wise Memorial Golf Tournament and family members of Cindy Wise.
  • Playroom Patrons and attendees of the 2014 Austin’s Playroom Project Luncheon & Fundraiser.
  • UPMC Altoona medical staff physicians Art DeMarsico, D.O., Robert Caughey, M.D., William Olstein, D.O., Manesh Mathew, M.D., Donald Betar Jr., D.M.D., John Reinhardt, D.O.; Richard MacDonald, D.C., and Joseph Nyanko, president, JPN Management FourG, LLC. These local hockey players have played in several Mario Lemieux Foundation Fantasy Hockey League camps, including Dr. DeMarsico, a five-time attendee.
  • UPMC Altoona
  • UPMC Altoona Foundation

“Austin’s Playroom quickly becomes a vital part of each hospital, filling an important need for families with young children,” said Art DeMarsico, D.O., a UPMC surgeon, playroom advocate and donor to both the Mario Lemieux Foundation and UPMC Altoona. “As a father, I understand the value and assistance a resource like Austin’s Playroom offers families who visit loved ones in the hospital or have family members undergoing surgery. This is a comforting space and brings a sense of normalcy to an otherwise challenging situation for young children. I’m proud to support this initiative.”

“Each year, about 8,000 children visit UPMC Altoona’s emergency department,” said Tim Balconi, president of the UPMC Altoona Foundation. “On average each year, more than 500 children receive care in our pediatrics unit and about 300 children have outpatient procedures in the UPMC Altoona Surgery Center. Now, when families visit and are accompanied by additional children, the playroom provides a safe, family friendly environment.”

Each Austin’s Playroom features comfortable child-sized furnishings, as well as games, toys, books, electronics and child-friendly artwork. Mrs. Lemieux uniquely and personally designs each playroom. Each playroom also features a train table, wall-mounted games, sand table, large screen TV and much more, inside a brightly painted room.

“It’s for children of all ages from toddler and up,” McConnell said. “It’s a place where a child and a supervising adult can go and expend energy through playing games, such as bubble hockey, or a quiet place to read a book.”

The gift of an Austin’s Playroom is a gift that keeps giving, McConnell explained, as the Project provides annual inspections and maintenance support.

The Mario Lemieux Foundation was created in 1993 after hockey legend and NHL Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux survived Hodgkin’s disease. The Lemieux Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to raising funds for cancer research and patient care, as well as Austin’s Playroom Project.

Susan Manko
Vice President