INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Country music star Garth Brooks became teary-eyed Tuesday as he dedicated a new child play zone at an Indianapolis children's hospital, praising the colorful, game-filled space as a "miracle" that allows ailing youngsters to forget their illnesses and just have fun.
Brooks arrived at Riley Hospital for Children in a race car driven by IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, then waded into a crowd that filled the hospital's atrium. Dressed in jeans and sporting a black cowboy hat, he greeted a long line of young patients, their families and hospital staffers, some of whom cheered once they saw Brooks approaching.
After a ribbon-cutting for the hospital's Child Life Zone, the 53-year-old singer entered that 4,200-square-foot space, which was funded through the Teammates for Kids foundation, which Brooks co-founded in 1999. The space, which includes billiards, foosball, a video game wall, an arts and crafts area and even a recording studio, is the nation's 11th and largest hospital Child Life Zone.
Brooks, a father of three, became emotional as he described the impact the play areas have on children by allowing them to momentarily forget grueling treatments and frightening medical procedures.
"What you're witnessing here in these zones is truly a miracle. It's a place in a hospital where no doctor and no needles are allowed. It's a place where a kid gets to be a kid," he told hospital staffers and donors whose gifts paid for the space, which opened in late 2014.
Brooks said research suggests young patients who enjoy moments of fun need less pain medication and have faster recovery times than patients who don't.
Eleven-year-old Chloe Alexander of Sullivan, Indiana, got both a hug and an autographed cowboy hat from Brooks and spent a moment talking to him.
"I told him that my dad will be jealous and that it was so nice to meet him. He said that he loved me. He also said that I have a great spirit," the young country music fan, who had just completed five days of chemotherapy treatments for Ewing sarcoma, said.
Chloe, who left the hospital with her mother, Jerri, after Tuesday's event to return to Sullivan, said she loved visiting the Child Life Zone during her stay. She excitedly described the day she recorded her own music video there — her own version of James Brown's "I Feel Good."