Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

PORTLAND - The name "Shriner" easily brings up images of men in funny red hats who are always quick to smile.

And they're pretty entertaining in a parade, too.

Coming around a bend on a curvy road in the hills of Southwest Portland, that image of a man in a fez is suddenly there, preserved forever in stone - a Shriner cradling a child in his arms.

This is the first glimpse of the Shriners Hospital for Children, the first indication that this place is different.

Walk through the entrance and a "ping" fills the air - around the corner is an ever-moving pinball-type feature, put in this waiting room to entertain the kids.

This is, after all, a hospital for children - one of 22 Shriners hospitals located in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Portland hospital provides care to children who have orthopedic and neuromusculoskeletal disorders and diseases, burn injuries, cleft lip and palate.

Last year the hospital treated 6,700 patients, said Kay Weber, who handles public relations. The hospital's "service area" stretches from Alaska south to Northern California and east to Idaho, although some patients travel from farther away to see a specialist.

The average stay is 2.8 days. There are 29 beds, plus 16 family quarters for those who travel from more than 50 miles away.

Also, each patient room has space for a parent to stay overnight.

When you step into the hall leading to patient rooms, you know this is not a regular hospital.

The walls are bright yellow and green, and each room has a floor-to-ceiling photograph of a scenic Oregon spot.

This hospital treats youth 18 and younger, so it is designed with children and families in mind.

For starters, there are miniature chairs everywhere, and each floor is decorated with a different cartoon animal or insect.

There is a family lounge, and also a teen lounge where older kids "are allowed to watch PG-13 movies," Weber said.

Other floors of the hospital have a more clinical look, but always with the child in mind.

The room for physical and occupational therapy is filled with what look like games, plus stairs, a skiing station and a rock wall.

"A kid's job is to play," Weber said.

But the very reason for this hospital it to treat some very serious medical challenges.

Just consider orthotics and prosthetics.

"If the kids are missing a limb, we can build them a new one," Weber said. "If they need a brace, we can do that, too."

And these devices are far from ordinary.

"The kids get to pick the design, the color of straps," she said. "With kids, compliance is the biggest issue. If they have a choice, they'll wear it."

Another room reveals the movement analysis lab, where 10 cameras can capture the precise mechanics of children with orthopedic and neuromusculoskeletal disorders.

The patient wears sensors and simply walks across the room. The sensors are read by the cameras, and that data of movement is used to determine the best treatment.

Take a tour of this hospital and you're bound to encounter staff.

The staff may inquire where you're from and if you say "Baker City," they will smile at the familiar town name.

To understand, simply step into the cafeteria - there, stretched across the wall, is a mural dedicated to the East-West All-Star Shrine Football Game, which is played in Baker City every summer.

This year marks the 60th playing of one of the hospital's major fundraisers.

Last year, with program sales, ticket sales and auctioning the 4-H/FFA steer, the game brought in $120,000.

The steer is donated to the game by the Baker County Cattlewomen and Cattlemen, who hold fundraisers throughout the year to buy the steer, including the Shrine breakfast in Geiser-Pollman Park on the morning of the game.

"This is really kids helping kids," said Diana Downing, who helps select the steer every year. "The 4-H or FFA person has to be willing to do this, and they consider it an honor."

This year's steer was raised by Joel Rohner as an FFA project. He will be a senior at Baker High School.

"(Seniors) are more experienced with animals, and to take an animal in a parade - a steer, no less. These animals don't like people," Downing said.

During halftime of the game, the steer is auctioned, then donated back and auctioned again. And again and again.

Downing said Shrine clubs around the state raise money all year just to buy the steer.

"That money all goes to the Shrine hospital, every single dime," she said.