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Enhancing CHOC Magic Through the Power of Disney Stories

By Lucas Smith | May 11, 2021

Imagine rounding a hospital hallway and catching a glimpse of Buzz Lightyear and Woody soaring through space; spotting Ariel and Flounder from a patient room doorway; or marveling at an epic, interactive mural on the way to the hospital cafeteria.

These are just snapshots of the beautiful artwork and interactive features that have been sprinkled throughout CHOC’s main hospital campus and Thompson Autism Center, both in Orange, as part of Disney’s philanthropic initiative dedicated to delivering comfort and inspiration to children facing serious illness.

Among the new experiences are “magic windows,” which offer dynamic and mesmerizing views into the worlds of beloved stories; large-scale murals that draw the imagination into the vibrant worlds of Disney’s storytelling and leverage augmented reality content; and “magic art,” digital screens that spark to life with favorite characters offering fun messages.   

Building upon a longtime partnership

The recent debut of these incredible new experiences at CHOC is made even more special by the upcoming Virtual CHOC Walk presented by Disneyland® Resort.

Now in its 30th year, the CHOC Walk has annually brought thousands of participants along an early morning 5K walk through the Disneyland® Resort, raising through the years more than $37 million for CHOC.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s walk – scheduled for May 22 – will be held virtually, building upon CHOC Walk’s storied legacy while being mindful of the health and safety of the community.

CHOC walk teams walking
CHOC Walk teams, like this one from a previous, pre-COVID event, often wear matching outfits and carry special signs honoring CHOC or a patient for whom they are walking.

Despite the change, Virtual CHOC Walk participants can still expect a little Disney pixie dust – no hints, though! And thanks to the new artwork inside the hospital, CHOC patients and families will experience that sparkle year-round, says Zach Abrams, assistant vice president of community engagement for the CHOC Foundation.

“The CHOC Walk is such a beloved community event, and though it will look different this year, we are so excited to reimagine it in an entirely new and fun way,” he says. “We are forever awed by the steadfast support of our CHOC Walk participants and teams, and we are so grateful for Disney’s longtime partnership. We’re especially thrilled that Disney was able to bring some of their signature magic that makes the Virtual CHOC Walk so special right into the hospital for our patients and families to experience.”

The longtime partnership between CHOC and the Disneyland® Resort dates back to the 1960s and the health system’s founding.

CHOC’s history began with Walt Disney and other visionaries joining a small group of Orange County pediatricians and leaders – all determined to bring a children’s hospital to their growing community.

And over the next half century, the Disneyland® Resort has shown ongoing support for the health system.

Not only did a Disney artist decades ago create the original drawing for Choco, CHOC’s beloved mascot, but the Bill Holmes Tower on CHOC’s Orange hospital campus features Turtle Talk with Crush, an interactive experience where patients can chat with Crush from Disney and Pixar’s Finding Nemo.

Artist Bob Moore with child
Disney artist Bob Moore created the original sketch for Choco Bear, CHOC’s beloved mascot

Disney VoluntEARS from the Disneyland® Resort also host a regular holiday party for hospital patients and families replete with a large-scale gingerbread sculpture that wows visitors both visually and olfactorily. Additionally, Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland® Resort, sits on CHOC’s Board of Directors.

Years in the making

Efforts to bring the new Disney experiences to CHOC began in fall 2018, when the health system was invited to participate in the initiative.

“In the following year and a half or so, a flurry of activity would take place as the teams readied to bring the installations to CHOC: visits by CHOC leaders to Disney’s concept lab to provide feedback, discussions focused on which features would be best for the campus; multiple site visits to select the perfect location for each installation; a close review of structural needs for the installation; and more,” says Patrice Poidmore, associate vice president of corporate and community engagement for the CHOC Foundation.

By January 2020, the first set of magic windows were unveiled at CHOC’s newly completed Thompson Autism Center. Located a few blocks from the main hospital campus, the center’s installations featured colors, images and videos carefully selected to be considerate of the needs of patients with autism.

magic window peering into forest
“Magic Windows” offer dynamic and mesmerizing views into the worlds of beloved stories

The Thompson Autism Center’s magic windows were well received – and a preview for what was to come in mid-March 2020, when artwork was slated for installation throughout CHOC’s main hospital campus.

But before any additional installations could occur, the COVID-19 crisis mounted in Orange County and beyond, prompting significant changes to visitor policies at CHOC and a delay in the installation.

As the pandemic continued, the installation was twice rescheduled – in July and September 2020 – again due to rising COVID-19 numbers in Southern California.

But the third time was the charm and installation was finally confirmed for November 2020 after close collaboration with CHOC’s incident command center, a fine attention to COVID-19 trends in the region, and strict adherence to COVID-19 mitigation efforts and safety guidelines.

murals being installed
With all crew members being screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure, showing proof of influenza vaccination, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance, installation was completed at CHOC in November 2020.

“It was truly a labor of love, and we are so happy with the final result,” Patrice says. “We at CHOC are always seeking new and innovative ways to enhance the hospital experience for patients and families, and Disney is a dream partner on that front. We are so grateful for their support.”

Rave reviews from patients, families

The result is a grin-inducing display of cheer peppering various hospital units, hallways and corridors, standing ready for mesmerized patients and families, impromptu games of “I Spy,” and unexpected moments of delight.

“CHOC has long been committed to infusing fun into the hospital experience and ensuring that our patients still feel like kids,” says Brianne Ortiz, manager of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department at CHOC. “These beautiful Disney experiences dovetail perfectly with that effort and add yet another dimension of joy for our patients and families – not to mention staff.”

And the incredible artwork is doing just that – in multitudes.

Donning a hospital gown reminiscent of Donald Duck’s iconic garb – Disney-themed Starlight Gowns are another element of Disney’s  initiative – patient Melanie recently rounded a CHOC hallway alongside Erin, a CHOC child life specialist.

Before the two, an epic mural spanned a long hallway, depicting a range of beloved Disney characters that created a window into a somehow seamless world of princesses, mermaids and galaxies. Melanie gazed at the mural and began counting off the characters she recognized like old friends.

CHOC patient viewing mural
CHOC patient Melanie and Erin, a child life specialist, use the Disney Team of Heroes to bring to life a new mural.

The spell-binding mural comes to life through the Disney Team of Heroes app, which uses augmented reality technology. Also loaded with games, interactive tales, animated character encounters and more, the free app unlocks stories, trivia, and other entertainment offerings on mobile devices that can be enjoyed at hospital, at home, or from the comfort of a patient’s room.

In short, the murals and other experiences sprinkled through CHOC thanks to a beloved, longtime Disney partnership are just what the doctor ordered: a familiar and comforting varietal of magic.

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