Ilana Hanai has spent so many days at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt that she notices if the artwork on the walls has changed.
Ilana, 8, who has had five craniofacial reconstruction surgeries to repair craniosynostosis (a birth defect where the skull bones fuse prematurely), appreciates variety in the activities she enjoys during inpatient stays or doctors’ appointments—from bingo to movies to photos with the hospital mascot, Champ.
“While it’s a hospital and it’s not a place she wants to go hang out, she feels safe and comfortable there,” said Sara Hanai, Ilana’s mom. “She feels like she owns the place. She walks around and knows where everything is. When you spend a week or so in the hospital—and there are families who spend infinitely more time there—you can only play so much bingo.”
On March 18, patients at Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt got a new high-profile distraction that only nine other pediatric hospitals across the nation can claim—a state-of-the-art, multimedia broadcast studio, Seacrest Studios.
Radio and television host and producer Ryan Seacrest and his charitable endeavor, the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, in partnership with Children’s Hospital, opened the country’s 10th Seacrest Studios inside the hospital.
Seacrest Studios allows patients to explore the creative realms of radio, television and new media, which can aid in the healing process for patients and families during a visit to or stay in the hospital.
Ilana, along with other patients, helped cut the ribbon to the new studio entrance alongside Seacrest and special celebrity guest Taylor Swift, who surprised the entire hospital community for the event.
“If Ilana has to stay again, there is something to do that allows her to be creative, and she loves music,” Sara Hanai said. “She was so excited to be a part of it. There was so much energy that day. Taylor Swift is one of her favorites. It’s nice every time she has the chance to build positive memories at Children’s Hospital.”
Thanks to the Ryan Seacrest Foundation and an anonymous donor who made a $1.25 million gift, patients will have opportunities to take part in the studio daily, whether they are physically in the broadcast center as part of the creative process or watching programming on closed-circuit television from their hospital room. The studio, located on the second floor of Children’s Hospital, includes a disc jockey microphone, five guest microphones, production-quality cameras and a green screen for video projects.
“The real idea is to provide an environment of distraction and excitement and to allow the kids to be empowered to have their own shows, host their own shows and produce their own shows. At the same time, they will meet some people who have done very well in all facets of life, a lot of them entertainers and singers,” Seacrest said.
“When the entertainers come in they get a chance to speak to all the kids because everything is sent up to the room—so even if a child can’t leave their bed, they can be a part of the program, and that was important to us. It also was very important to me to leave something more tangible in cities and in hospitals than to just write a check. This is something that I hope has a legacy and lives on for generations.”
The first celebrity entertainer to grace Seacrest Studios was Taylor Swift, whose surprise appearance at the studio grand opening excited patients. She took time to meet with patients, take photos and participated in the first live studio broadcast, which also aired in all patients’ rooms across the hospital.
“What I see when I come here is that the doctors, the nurses and the staff are so committed to making this a more fun experience,” Swift told the audience during the studio’s grand opening celebration. “It has been so inspiring coming to visit. The fact that this (studio) is happening in Nashville—can you imagine the artists, and the songwriters and the entertainers who are going to be stopping by the hospital? I want to say ‘thank you’ to Ryan for doing everything to really change the hospital experience.”
The 723-square-foot glass-encased studio, run by full-time programming manager Mamie Shepherd, is already in full swing. Lip sync battles among staff and patients take over the 2 p.m. slot every Wednesday. “Funtastic Fridays” include live music after lunch, celebrity sightings, games and science experiments. When live shows or events aren’t in progress, the studio serves as a full-time radio station playing today’s hottest music hits.
Celebrity guest appearances have included American Idol contestant and Nashville native Tristan McIntosh, the band American Authors, singer Tori Kelly and race car driver Josh Williams. Patients have fun asking celebrities questions like, “Do you snore?” or “If you had a horse, what would you name it?”
To create more programming unique to Children’s Hospital, Shepherd will continue to work with Child Life, art and music therapy, nutrition, the hospital school program and other services.
“We have been very honored to partner with Ryan Seacrest, his family and their foundation and for the opportunity to open the 10th Seacrest Studios location,” said Luke Gregory, chief executive officer of Children’s Hospital. “Every day our hospital staff, physicians, nurses and Child Life specialists work with patients and families to provide a positive medical experience that is engaging and helps in the healing process. Seacrest Studios complements our mission to ensure Children’s Hospital is an inspiring and welcoming place for all children and families.”
Also as part of the Ryan Seacrest Foundation mission, the studio will bring in journalism students from area colleges and universities as interns to give them a hands-on experience. The Foundation has opened the 10 Seacrest Studios in pediatric hospitals across the country with the help of its sponsors, The Coca-Cola Company, E! Entertainment, iHeartMedia and ACM Lifting Lives.