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Children’s Memorial ready to roll in transfer of most precious cargo

Tim Grobart 5 Children's Memorial Hospital waits for heart transplant before or after move new Lurie Children's Hospital. (John H.

Tim Grobart, 5, at Children's Memorial Hospital waits for a heart transplant before or after the move to the new Lurie Children's Hospital. (John H. White/Sun-Times)

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Updated: July 9, 2012 6:10AM

As 5-year-old Tim Grobart napped Wednesday afternoon, his tiny chest shuddered with each shallow breath.

A tangle of clear plastic tubing and wires stretched up from his torso to bleeping monitors and a medication drip at the head of his Children’s Memorial Hospital bed.

Tim and his family, who live in Lombard, are facing enormous uncertainty, including whether the little boy will receive a new heart in time to save his life.

With all that on their minds, that’s perhaps why the Grobarts aren’t overly concerned about Saturday’s big move from Children’s in Lincoln Park to the new $855 million Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Streeterville.

In fact, Tim is looking forward to it.

“I want to hear about the new playroom,” the red-headed boy mumbled to a hospital staffer, as he awoke from his nap.

After four years of planning, Maureen Mahoney is also looking forward to the final, most critical part of the move — transporting an estimated 170 of the Chicago area’s most sick babies and children to the new campus at 225 E. Chicago.

“People are very excited,” said Mahoney, who is in charge of the three-mile move. “We’re ready to get rolling. I’m ready for Saturday.”

Children’s Memorial, which started out in 1882 as an eight-bed cottage at the corner of Belden and Halsted, will close its Lincoln Park campus for good after a move that should — if all goes as planned — start at 6 a.m. and last between 10 to 18 hours.

Twenty to 25 ambulances, with lights flashing, will make the trip east along Fullerton Avenue and then south on Lake Shore Drive. From bed to bed, the trip is expected to take as long as two hours for the most fragile patients, which includes Tim Grobart, who was born with a defective heart and has had six operations in his short life.

As of Wednesday, Children’s Memorial intensive care unit was nearing its 42-patient capacity, Mahoney said. Many of those fragile patients will likely make the trip to Streeterville.

For the last two weeks, hospital employees have been meeting with patients and their families to explain the move and to try to ease any fears.

“The unknown can be kind of [scary] for children,” said Emily Krouse, who is helping prepare families for the trip. “They’re going to a huge new place downtown with lots of people, plus a ride in an ambulance, which can be a little frightening.”

Each patient has been given a stuffed bear, with the “mission” to make sure “Buddy the Bear” gets to the new hospital safely, Krouse said.

To make sure the children arrive safely, the most fragile among them will have a team of up to six people on board, including a surgeon. One family member will also be allowed to travel in the ambulance

Tim is in that category. His status is, officially, “1A,” meaning if a suitable heart becomes available, there’s a strong chance he’d get it.

A transplant could happen any day — perhaps even this week.

Tim’s mother, Christine Grobart, compares his precarious health to “walking a tightrope.”

“He’s been on a tightrope for a long, long time, and we always keep hoping he won’t step off,” she said.

Whether Tim’s surgery occurs at the old or the new hospital, he’ll recuperate at the Streeterville location.

“We’re really looking forward to the new hospital,” Christine Grobart said. “There’s going to be more space, and more things to do.”

Tim’s older brother, 8-year-old Lou, was amazed to learn that at that new hospital, patients can order their dinner from a menu that pops up on flat-screen TV.

Mostly, though, Lou is looking forward to his brother coming home and having enough energy to maybe play soccer or “catch.”

As Tim groaned softly about being too cold, then too hot, and a bit fed up with all of the commotion in his hospital room, his older brother politely explained the situation to a visitor: “He’s got to be in here sometimes, and it’s kind of hard on him.”

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