Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital Opens

Updated: December 16, 2006, 11:34 AM ET
Associated Press

CONCORD, N.C. -- Jeff Gordon saw firsthand the strain and heartache childhood illnesses bring early in his career when Ray Evernham's young son was diagnosed with leukemia.

Watching his crew chief battle to find top-notch care for Ray J. stuck with Gordon, who made children's charities a top priority of his foundation. His largest contribution yet came to fruition Saturday when the ribbon was cut at the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital, a 28-bed pediatric unit at Northeast Medical Center.

"I was introduced to these illnesses through Ray Evernham and Ray J., and after you see somebody go through that it makes you want to give your time to things like Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Riley Hospital for Children (in Indianapolis)," Gordon said.

"Then you are meeting the kids and meeting the doctors and you become so educated that you are just drawn into it and you can't help but want to give whatever you can."

So when Northeast officials approached the Jeff Gordon Foundation about helping their efforts to build a children's hospital, Gordon immediately pledged $1 million of the roughly $11 million needed for the project. The donation is on top of the annual fundraising he does for the Riley hospital and the work he does almost every weekend during the NASCAR season for Make-A-Wish.

Located not far from Lowe's Motor Speedway and many of NASCAR's race shops, the hospital will serve six counties and eliminate the need to travel to Charlotte for specialized pediatric care.

Gordon, who is expecting his first child in July, said helping Northeast was a logical fit.

"One, Cabarrus County had a need for it and Northeast is a top-notch center," Gordon said. "But two, so many of our employees at Hendrick Motorsports and just in racing in general live around this county. It made perfect sense for this foundation and for the families who need it."

Despite the hospital's name, it doesn't have an overwhelming racing theme. In fact, aside from an autographed children's rocking chair, there is almost nothing else racing related.

Instead, Gordon's personal touch centers around four photographs he took during an African safari last year. He asked the hospital to exhibit the pictures of a gazelle, elephant, lion and giraffe, but the hospital took it one step further.

Northeast administrator Donna Craft turned the photos into images that can be found throughout the entire wing and are used as "way-finding icons" to identify which part of the hospital a patient is in.

In addition to five intensive care beds, the hospital has only private, single rooms with sofa-beds for parents, sleeping rooms for family members that are equipped with showers, an Internet Cafe for teens, and a child-advocacy center.

The hospital is equipped to handle everything but transplants.

"Every child that needed a higher level of care before this had to go to Charlotte, Winston-Salem or Chapel Hill," said administrator Colleen Hole. "Now we have everything they need right here."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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