Doll display comes to Children’s Inn

Exhibit shows activities for children receiving treatment at NIH

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

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Chris Rossi⁄The Gazette
Katey Templeton, 10, of Indiana (right) and Estela Valencia, 26, of El Salvador, tour the new permanent doll exhibit at the Children’s Inn at NIH. The dolls illustrate some of the more popular activities at the Inn.

Wally Horner is a real doll.

It’s not exactly the way one might normally want to address a retired veteran of both the U.S. Navy and Central Intelligence Agency, but in this case, it fits.

Horner, 80, of Kensington, has been immortalized at The Children’s Inn at NIH as a stuffed doll, now on permanent display. An 18-year volunteer at the Inn, Horner cracked up when he saw the likeness. The ball cap and clothes were about accurate, as was the big grin, but one detail was a little off.

‘‘I don’t have a lot of hair anymore,” Horner said, laughing.

The permanent exhibition of 14 cloth dolls, handmade and donated by Washington, D.C. doll maker Sorrell Caplan, illustrates several scenes common to the Children’s Inn. One of the Inn’s founders, Libby Mandell, of Chevy Chase, donated the money for the exhibit.

Horner’s likeness appears in a glass display running the bingo night, the twice-monthly event he started about 10 years ago at the Inn.

‘‘It’s a family thing,” Horner said. ‘‘The whole family comes down. What we make sure is that everybody gets a prize. It’s funny though, how people are, if they win a lot, they feel that they’ve won too much that they don’t want to do anymore.”

The Children’s Inn, located on the Bethesda campus of the National Institutes of Health, is designed as a true home away from home for children undergoing clinical trials at the institutes. The Inn draws children from all over the world, many of whom are receiving newly-developed treatments for rare diseases, often representing their last and best chance for survival. The Inn, as well as the NIH Family Lodge, helps to keep the families together during the treatments.

Estela Valencia, 26, of El Salvador, is staying at the Inn this month while being treated for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare type of cancer, most commonly found in children and young adults.

‘‘For me, in my country, there’s nothing like this,” Valencia said of the Inn. ‘‘They were going to cut off my leg.”

She is receiving chemotherapy and other treatments at the NIH Clinical Research Center and her condition is improving dramatically, she said. Valencia said she is now able to take advantage of some of the fun activities illustrated in the doll display, including a recent ‘‘beach party” event.

Aside from the warm, plush environment at the Inn, Shawna Templeton of Indiana said people like Horner are what make the Inn such a comfortable place.

‘‘It’s the people here who are so wonderful,” Templeton said. ‘‘And they always have something going on.”

Two of Templeton’s daughters, Amy, 14, and Emily, 11, were born with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a form of muscular dystrophy. Templeton is staying at the Inn along with her youngest daughter, 10-year-old Katey, while the girls are receiving treatment.

On a recent Thursday, the Templeton girls were filling out forms to vote for the names of the dolls on display.

‘‘They give us a lot of memories,” Katey Templeton said of the dolls.

Horner, who volunteers every day from 6 a.m. to noon in addition to running the bingo games, said he nearly became a paid employee of the Inn 18 years ago. He interviewed as a manager of the Inn, but soon realized the job would be too stressful. With his two retirements, he also didn’t need to work. Seeing the children’s health improve over time is all the payment he needs, he said.

‘‘It’s like a miracle being performed when you see the kids and how they progress,” Horner said. ‘‘It just makes you feel like a million dollars. When you go home at night you don’t have any trouble sleeping, that’s for sure.”