The Mario Lemieux Foundation created Austin’s Playrooms following Nathalie and Mario Lemieux’s personal experience while caring for their profoundly premature infant son at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh. As they were tending to young Austin, there was no place, or no one, to engage the lively minds and provide a comfortable calming environment for his sisters. It was then that Nathalie devised this idea to someday raise funds and develop sibling and patient playrooms in medical facilities in the Pittsburgh region. As the project grew, Nathalie and Mario recognized how playrooms could also benefit the children of our veterans and active duty warriors.
The first Austin’s Military Playroom was donated to the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, in 2011. The success of this playroom prompted a continued relationship between the Mario Lemieux Foundation and the United States Navy, leading to the creation of the second and third military playrooms at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton in California and Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Austin’s Military Playrooms is an initiative of the Mario Lemieux Foundation that creates playrooms for military personnel and their families. By joining forces with the military, the Mario Lemieux Foundation creates playrooms that provide comfort, warmth and love for these very special military families.
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 Playrooms.
Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune
Est. 2015 – Jacksonville, North Carolina
The Mario Lemieux Foundation opened this 730-square-foot playroom inside the new, 45,000 square-foot Clinic Annex, which is home to pediatrics and dermatology at Camp Lejeune.
Mario and Nathalie Lemieux participated in the ribbon cutting and official dedication ceremony. The Lemieux’s were joined by Rear Adm. Terry J. Moulton, commander of Navy Medicine East and the hospital commanding officer, Capt. Rick Freedman. Capt. Freedman explained how important it is to take care of and ensure readiness aboard the base. He also emphasized how the playroom will play an integral part in that mission.
“There is no surer way to make a combat ready Marine, soldier, Sailor, airman or guardsman more ineffective than to have them worry about their loved one,” Freedman said, as he lamented over his own experience with a sick child. His oldest daughter was born and spent a considerable amount of time in intensive care. They had a toddler son who acted like most toddlers. He explained that juggling a toddler and with his worry over his newborn was difficult. “Perhaps if we were there today, with a beautiful Austin’s Playroom at the National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, it might have been different. To make the day special for my son on those trips to the hospital, perhaps would have enabled all of us to visit Jessica as a family.”
Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton
Est. 2014 – Oceanside, California
This playroom serves more than 75,000 active duty Marines and their families, as well as wounded warriors, veterans and their families in the San Diego area.
The Lemieux’s were joined by Rear Admiral C. Forest Faison III, Deputy Surgeon General of the Navy and Captain Mark A. Kobelja, MC, USN, Commanding Officer, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton at the dedication in 2014.
Camp Pendleton has seen a 30 percent increase in patients who keep their appointments, since it’s Austin’s Playroom was established.
“We are very conscientious about trying to provide stimulating areas in each of our rooms, and when you look around the playroom, you will see an area for imaginative play, a place for caregivers to rest, as well as an area for older children to hang out. They can play bubble hockey, do homework – they can be comfortable doing things they would do in their own home.” — Nancy Angus, Executive Director, Mario Lemieux Foundation
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
Est. 2011 – Bethesda, Maryland
This 2,000 sq. ft. playroom accommodates children from six weeks up to 12 years. The room is equipped with the newest toys and games including video gaming systems, creative and imaginative play areas and an interactive kiosk. From our personal experience, this room will give children a space to call their own while parents attend to medical needs, but will also allow them to remain together as a family. We believe providing an environment that is cheerful, safe and comfortable for children and patients is an essential complement to medical treatment when addressing the quality of a child and families’ hospital experience.
“I am proud to join forces with the United States military and establish this Austin’s Playroom at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,” said Nathalie Lemieux. “It’s my hope that this playroom provides comfort, warmth and happiness for these very special military families.”
– Nathalie Lemieux