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Public Papers - 1990 - June

Remarks at the Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for the Children's Inn at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland

1990-06-21

What a beautiful day! Thank you, Dr. Sullivan. And I love the music, too. I love to sing. We heard you when we were just getting ready to come out here. Thank you very much. I guess I needn't tell this group, infiltrated by so many doctors and friends from NIH, of my high regard for our Secretary of HHS, Dr. Sullivan. I'm just delighted he's with me and very proud to be introduced by him. I really want to single out those who have worked so hard, recognizing that I might, by omission, risk offending. But Bar and I've had this warm welcome here, and then we've been reading up on the hard work that's gone into it. Certainly, I want to single out Debbie Dingell for her commitment, Dr. Pizzo, Dr. Raub, Dr. Vagelos, Alan Kay, Carmala Walgren, Chris Downey, Kathy Russell, and -- again, excuse me, I'll stop there -- but everybody else as well.

It's good to see so many friends and believers from the Hill over here -- from Capitol Hill, those who are giving this project a lot of heartfelt support -- Congressmen Dingell and Downey and Walgren and Morella and Lowery. Welcome to all. And a special greeting to the kids, the parents, and the friends who have come down from NIH this morning.

I have been so impressed by what I've learned about the unique concept of Children's Inn. Barbara and I have talked about it, and she's told me of this wonderful concept. It's an extraordinarily sensitive idea to provide this place of refuge and renewal so that sick children and their families can live together during treatment. I am very moved to be here today to see how joyously your vision of caring has been realized. This is a story of how dreams come true, and if you believe with all your heart and work with all your might, dreams do come true.

Yours is also an inspiring message of bravery, sacrifice, and hope that can bring together individuals, political parties, professionals, volunteers, private businesses, and then the Government itself. The Children's Inn, this extraordinary home for those who need it most, is a remarkable lesson in unity of purpose and caring. As brilliant Points of Light in the hard, dark world of battling illness, you've given this rare and loving gift, and you've shown your belief in the shining role which family support plays in the treatment of a sick child.

Carmala and Debbie and Chris and all of the congressional spouses, your vision and compassion and caring touch us all very deeply. Dr. Pizzo, your professional commitment to this dream has lasted a decade; the remarkable legacy that you've helped to create will last for generations. And, Dr. Vagelos, you and Merck   Co. have embodied in a most exemplary way the ideal of corporate responsibility, utilizing the unique talents and gifts that your company has to give. And then to NIH: Your generous gift of land and medical expertise has and will change the lives of many of the children and so many, many others. Your leadership and gifts, both spiritual and physical, have made this dream an astonishing reality.

The lesson of the Inn will show us all that the most important part of life is a very simple one: taking time to hold a hand, share a laugh, wipe away a tear. Many people will be doing exactly that to comfort the 36 families who will live at this Inn: people like resident manager Kate Higgins and her staff; people like the volunteer fundraisers and more than 4,000 donors who have raised over million for construction and who will continue to raise 0,000 a year for operating expenses; people like those at the Clinical Center and the entire campus of NIH, who have been involved in caring for decades, in planning for years, and in construction since last August. I think it's wonderful that over 3,000 of you came to tour this place earlier this week. And Debbie said that -- knowing her, I'm sure there were a few arms twisted -- but nevertheless, she said that most of you have volunteered to help, and I would encourage the others to listen to her message.

We can't forget those who simply care, like the eighth graders at Baker Intermediate School in Damascus, Maryland, who made a squadron of 35 toy airplanes for the Inn.

But above all, it will be the families themselves who will be providing the love. As your Children's Inn slogan says: ``There is a closeness that can only come from the family.''

Let me give you an example of the importance of the family bond in bringing new hope to a sick child. Today 10-year-old Breanne Schwantes can swim up to 54 laps a day, plays hard with her sisters and cousins, and is so concerned about the penguins in Antarctica that she even wrote a letter to me about them. But she could have spent these last 10 years in a world bounded by her hospital room walls, like others with her illness, for Breanne has osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bone disease. But what is more important is that she also has her loving parents, Terry and Theresa, and sister, Elizabeth.

When Breanne's condition was diagnosed, Theresa gave up her Ph.D. work, saying nothing else mattered except devoting herself to the health of her daughter and the health of her family. And she says: ``We decided that our gift to Breanne would be that she have a life that was full and joyous and that all of our lives would be truly lived.'' And now, whether at home in Wisconsin or in the Schwantes' second home here at NIH, those who know Breanne say it is her family's depth of support that has given this child her life.

There is nothing that hurts more than a child afraid of the darkness whose cries go unheard, a lonely child whose tiny spirit is wrapped up in a brave fight too big for its years. And that is what this splendid cause, your splendid cause, so eloquently recognizes.

As I thought about why I was so deeply touched by the sensitivity of your concept, I remembered Barbara's words a couple of weeks ago at Wellesley. To me they sum up the spirit of this place: that the family is the key to everything. She told the graduates there, you may remember, ``You will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret, however, time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.''

We share the belief that the family is the bright center of love and life itself. Quite simply: Family comes first.

Those of you who are parents of these special, gravely ill children share something. You learn to carve out your daily lives with the tools of courage, faith, and love.

Dr. Vagelos and Dr. Pizzo and the Friends of the Children's Inn are people of exceptional goodness, and we are very, very grateful to them. And I also want to thank the nurses, the nurses who hold these kids in their arms and take care of them, and all the other fine people here at NIH who help and care. And to the families of these kids -- you live with a special grace. You who spend precious time with these kids, these intensely ill children, have learned the true meaning of the prayer of St. Francis:

``Where there is despair, let me sow hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.''

You've had the extraordinary opportunity to bring joy and strength to each other, and that is the greatest strength of all.

Thank you, and God bless this wonderful work right here at this very special Inn. And now off to cut the ribbon.

Note: The President spoke at 10:14 a.m. outside the Children's Inn. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan; Philip Pizzo, Chief of Pediatrics at the National Cancer Institute; William F. Raub, Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health; P. Roy Vagelos, chairman and chief executive officer of Merck   Co., Inc.; Carmala Walgren, Debbie Dingell, Chris Downey, Alan Kay, Kathy Russell, and Katie Lowery, president, vice president, secretary, and members of the board of directors of Friends of the Children's Inn, respectively.

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