Caitlin's Story

To the Trustees of Boston Children’s Hospital,

The Prouty Garden brought me back to life when I was 11, recovering from lung surgery, and spending months as an inpatient. Over the ensuing 30+ years, it’s been a haven during great days and during frightening ones, in my experience with Cystic Fibrosis.  I know my story is not unique.  I owe the garden a final effort.  

The Prouty Garden issue is about more than nostalgia or sentiment. I am currently living in Pittsburgh, where I am waiting for a lung transplant at UPMC, a wonderful hospital with a few “pocket gardens.”  Pocket gardens, rooftop gardens—they do not compare.  And not because they are not as beautiful. I have seen firsthand that they can be. The thing about them though, is they emphasize the sense the patient has of being in a false world, disconnected from nature, sustained by science and medicine. Science and medicine…both wonderful and necessary, but not the whole picture.  

Prouty Garden has always been a place that seems suspended in time, existing apart from the bright modernizations—moving giraffes! Interactive music walls!—that come and go. The comfort of the Prouty lies in its certainty. The certainty of nature, and the certainty assured by the promise that it would stay that way. 

To really heal, one must be able to connect to something beyond the constructs of the hospital. So many times, I and my doctors have witnessed healing beyond explanation.  The best medical practitioners know this happens. They allow for it. The original planners and benefactors of the Prouty Garden knew it, too. To feel that you are still part of the mysterious, natural world—that is what the garden connects people to, and for that it is magical.
You can walk at length in the Prouty, and many of us have relearned how to walk, and live and breathe again there. You cannot walk at length in a pocket garden, you cannot breathe the air and look at nature while indoors walking in a hallway.  In the Prouty you can see animals: rabbits and squirrels and birds that delight children.  The natural world exists unfettered. When you live in a hospital for months, the ‘real world’ can feel like a lost place. But the Prouty is the real and natural world, available to everyone. A manufactured rooftop garden, no matter how lovely, cannot replace the magic of the natural world any more than a city roofdeck can replace a suburban backyard.  
Mrs. Prouty insisted that the area be perpetually maintained as a “haven for patients, families, and staff.”  Her endowment of the garden was secured by a promise, displayed on a plaque near the entrance, that “this garden will continue to exist as long as Children’s Hospital has patients, families, and staff to enjoy it.”  If the garden is destroyed, what message does the hospital send to the thousands of children and families who have found comfort in that promise? I found peace and reassurance in that plaque -- I took it seriously, we all did.
Many of the people who care about the Prouty are fighting battles with illness that do not abate or resolve.  They may not have the time or energy to speak up as much as they would like.  This is not about just saving something that people feel attached to.  This is about keeping Children’s Hospital a place where people can believe in something beyond what any reason tells them. Boston hails Children’s as one of its most special institutions,  and Prouty is part of that. Let’s keep it that way, and keep the promise.
Thank you,
Caitlin O’Hara