- Associated Press - Sunday, March 19, 2017

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) - It’s a little the worse for wear after more than three decades of steady use, but it’s been a godsend for tens of thousands of southwest Iowans.

The thought of surgery, especially if it’s a major procedure, is intimidating for most everyone. For a small child, even the simplest procedure can be downright frightening.

While it is not a panacea, Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital’s “little red wagon” has helped ease the pre-surgical nervousness for thousands of kids, The Daily Nonpareil (https://bit.ly/2m1r7yq ) reported.

How many? No one is sure of the exact number, but based on averages the total is likely in excess of 30,000.

“It’s great for relieving anxiety,” said Marsha Joens, Jennie Edmundson’s director of surgery.

The history of the wagon - the current version and an earlier, smaller wagon that it replaced - along with the name or names of whomever suggested using a wagon rather than the traditional hospital gurney to move children to surgery is lost in the fog of time.

Back in late 1983, when the current wagon was presented to Jennie Edmundson by Omaha Standard and its employees, Ceci Kiefer was the director of patient care for the hospital’s Pediatrics Department.

Kiefer told The Nonpareil about the success of the initial, smaller wagon.

“A smaller wagon carried thousands of small patients over the past 10 years, but for many it just wasn’t big enough,” Kiefer said. “It did fine for the younger ones, but 5- and 6-year-olds needed a longer wagon. We average six to 10 trips to surgery with pediatric patients each week.”

“Surgery’s old wagon was only 34 inches by 13 inches, and some youngsters had to curl themselves into a ball to fit,” Kiefer continued. “The (then) new wagon measures 48 inches by 15 inches and was donated by Omaha Standard except for wheels and hubcaps donated by George Thompson, a volunteer surgical department coordinator.”

In addition to surgical patients, the wagon is also used to transport patients to X-ray, especially those with casts, Kiefer added.

Ken Bermel, Omaha Standard’s plant engineer in the late 1980s, designed the wagon that is still carrying Jennie Edmundson’s younger patients after 33 years of service. Max Smelser, then Omaha Standard’s plant supervisor, designed the wagon’s front axle and helped the company employees who donated time and labor to build it.

Information published in The Nonpareil on Jan. 1, 1984, said Omaha Standard workers took about 20 hours to assemble and paint the special wagon.

Smelser, who retired from Omaha Standard in 2006 after 40 years with the company, said he does not recall what prompted Omaha Standard to build the wagon and donate it to Jennie Edmundson. He said he could not remember if the wagon was an outgrowth of an earlier effort by Omaha Standard employees to provide toys to children who might otherwise not get gifts for Christmas.

In the early 1980s, Omaha Standard, a manufacturer of hoists and bodies for farm trucks, was, like a lot of businesses, facing tough times. The company’s work force of about 140 people had been pared to 70. The 70 who remained were working short weeks.

In the fall of 1981, someone started thinking about Christmas and what might be done to help those in need. On Fridays and Saturdays, furloughed workers who wanted something to do and wanted to help gathered in Omaha Standard’s wood shop to transform scrap lumber into toys for needy children.

Smelser agreed to head up that operation - an effort that continued for about three years, producing about 500 toys to be distributed annually.

Nonpareil records indicate that the first patient to ride in the new wagon was Jennifer Porter, the 6-year-old daughter of Randy and Pam Jones of Council Bluffs. Max Smelser was on hand to see that first patient try out the then-new wagon.

And he was at Jennie Edmundson last week to once again see the fruits of the effort by the volunteers he worked with.

“The paint’s a little worn in places, but our wagon has stood the test of time,” Smelser said. “It brings back a lot of memories.”

That’s likely the case for thousands of children who have ridden in it.


Information from: The Daily Nonpareil, https://www.nonpareilonline.com

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