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Fun with Trains Is “Good Medicine” for Young Patients

He’s not a pediatrician, but Al Kolis knows, “Good fun is good medicine.” A father of two boys and a toy train hobbyist, Kolis realizes that sharing the fun of toy trains with hospitalized children is a day brightener for them and a lift for him and other volunteers of the Lionel Collectors Club of America (LCCA).

About 1000 club members who are toy train operators and collectors will visit Chicago for their annual convention during the week of July 22-28. While in the city, a team of LCCA volunteers will visit patients at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago and present “Train Time” to selected patients – even those “attached” to IV poles or in wheelchairs. Train Time will be offered Tuesday, July 24, at 10:30 a.m. in the main lobby of CMH.

According to Kolis, the Conductor of Train Time, “Last year in Denver, a pediatric oncology nurse told me, “Kids enter the hospital facing a heavy-duty medical regimen. Their moment with the trains was the first time I’d seen them smile since admission.”

Three train sets will be set up as floor layouts in the main lobby of the hospital and will be available for hands-on operation by young patients who are well enough to participate. Conductor Kolis will welcome the children to the train layouts and punch their ticket for Train Time.

Selected club members are specially trained as coaches for the youngsters and show them how to operate the trains, sound the locomotive whistles or diesel horns, and activate the action cars. Each participating child will receive a paper engineer’s hat and a bandana neckerchief as mementos of the event and will receive a WHISTLE BLOWER certificate for learning the whistle codes of “real” railroads.

The LCCA coaches encourage hands-on involvement with the Thomas and His Friends train sets made by Lionel LLC.  The toy locomotives on the layouts named Thomas, Percy, and James are well known to many children because of the popular PBS television series “starring” Thomas and other train-related characters working on the railroad at the imaginary Isle of Sodor.
LCCA volunteers transport the trains, track, and accessories to the convention host city for use during Train Time. The layouts can be set up at the site in about a half-hour.  The Train Time activity has previously been presented by club members for young patients in children’s hospitals in Columbia, South Carolina; Little Rock, Arkansas; St. Louis, Missouri; and Denver, Colorado.

LCCA will leave something behind in appreciation of the time and effort of CMH nurses and staff – a Lionel train set with a market value of about $240.