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Originally published September 29, 2011 at 9:15 PM | Page modified September 29, 2011 at 10:02 PM

Names on beams cheer Children's patients

Ironworkers putting up the framework of an expansion project at Seattle Children's Hospital are spray-painting its beams with greetings to the hospital's young patients.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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With all the energy one would expect of a healthy boy his age, Julian Blackwell, 4, scurried across his room at Seattle Children's hospital Thursday, oblivious to the veritable Christmas-tree-on-wheels of monitors, wires, tubes and other devices to which he is tethered.

The Auburn youngster, being treated for a serious blood disorder, sprinted to the window to make sure his visitor got a good look at the construction project outside.

Specifically, the boy pointed out words painted on a steel beam some four floors above the ground.

"It's not on the top row, it's one lower, and then it's the first one in yellow," he said.

And sure enough, there on a reddish-brown beam was a message an ironworker spray-painted only a few days ago. Its big bold letters said simply, "HI JULIAN."

A couple of rooms away, Zac Graling, a 16-year-old being treated for leukemia, looked out at another beam bearing the message, "HI ZAC."

"It's fun to think they put up your name on a building and it will be there forever," said Graling, of Des Moines, who, like Julian, hopes to go home next week after a lengthy hospital stay.

And it's not just Julian and Zac who are getting personalized greetings from the seven-story tower taking shape as the initial phase of the hospital's long-planned, long-debated expansion.

The new building's skeleton is alive with greetings to Kitty, Colby, Kyle and Istvan. To Violet, Seth, Josh and Austin. To Rachel, Adam, Gillie-Jane and Christofer.

"Each day we do another one — at least one," said Tim Hettich, a superintendent with subcontractor The Erection Co., made up of Ironworkers Local 86.

It all started a few weeks ago, Hettich said, when one of the ironworkers painted a beam in tribute to a teenager who had died at the hospital, and whose father was a friend of the construction worker.

After that, other workers who knew of children being treated at the hospital painted those names on the beams. No long, flowery messages. Just "hi" and the patient's first name.

And then, said Hettich, "it went viral." Young patients who wanted their names on the beams put signs in their windows for the workmen to see, and checked back daily to see which names went up next, with the count now at some 50 names.

The $176.5 million building under construction will include 80 new beds to be put into service in 2013, either in a cancer-care unit or critical-care area, supplementing the hospital's existing 254 beds. If fundraising is successful, an additional $25 million will go toward an expanded Emergency Department.

The expansion was approved by the City Council last year after being scaled back in response to objections from the neighboring community.

The section of the existing hospital facing the new building now accommodates many youngsters with cancer and other serious illnesses, said Laura Tufts, spokeswoman for the hospital. She said that makes the construction workers' gesture especially appreciated.

"The nurses have been telling us that it is great therapy," she said. "It gets the kids up and out of bed and gives them something to look forward to, a nice distraction," she said.

Julian Blackwell has been diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a life-threatening condition in which the bone marrow doesn't produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to critical organs.

Four weeks ago, after a nationwide search for a compatible donor, he received a bone-marrow transplant. For the next year, he'll be closely monitored to see if his body accepts the new marrow, or attacks it as a foreign invader, something which could trigger a dangerous infection.

For now, he is showing signs of improvement, and there are early indications that the new marrow is doing its job.

On a window of his room, his parents, Tony and Valancy Blackwell, have posted a sign thanking the construction workers for their encouraging display.

Tim McKey, project superintendent for general contractor Sellen Construction, said within a few weeks, the names will disappear under a fireproof coating sprayed on the beams. Although hidden, he said, the names will never be erased.

"Every guy out here feels for every kid in that hospital," he said. "We're pulling for them, we care about them and we want them to know that."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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