Kansas City soon could be home to the nation's first daycare designed specifically for children with weakened immune systems.
Children undergoing cancer treatment or with other health problems such as genetic disorders are sometimes stuck at home because pathogens at their schools or daycare centers are too dangerous, says Karen Anthony, president of the nonprofit overseeing the project.
That isolation breeds loneliness and can stunt educational and social development, she says.
RJ Children's Haven will cater to children as old as 8 who, but for their illness, might be in school or preschool.
"Those are vital times, where they need to be exposed to their peers and education that sometimes they might be a little shy on because they're sick," Anthony says.
The daycare will have an air filtration system similar to those used in hospital operating rooms and a double barrier entry — a small room with reverse airflow — that will keep outside pathogens from getting into the building.
Children, workers and visitors will have to take off their shoes upon entering.
Anthony expects the center to accommodate up to 30 children at a time, and a nurse will be on staff to assist with their medical needs.
Space for other services such as physical therapy or counseling also will be provided.
If a child shows signs of sickness, they'll go to an isolation room —dubbed the "O.K. Corral" — where they can be kept separate from other children until a caregiver arrives.
Anthony has spent nearly a decade on the project, carrying it through from her initial idea to setting up a formal nonprofit, recruiting executive and advisory boards, fundraising and, soon, construction.
A donor who wants to remain anonymous has offered use of a building in the 2900 block of Cherry Street, less than a mile from Children's Mercy Hospital.
Now the effort is in its final phase, Anthony says, with renovations set to begin this winter and an anticipated opening date next spring.
While donors have pledged money and services for the renovation, Anthony says she hopes RJ Children's Haven can raise another $500,000 to offset operational costs.
A fundraising event is set for Sept. 12 at Corrigan Station in Kansas City's Crossroads neighborhood, with another one planned for October. For more information, visit the organization's website: www.rjchildrenshaven.org.