By Amy Wenk

It is not every day you see Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman playing on a Nintendo Wii with a patient of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite in Sandy Springs.

But celebrities including Aikman, country music star Garth Brooks, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking and Falcons announcer Wes Durham attended the grand opening of the Child Life Zone on Feb. 4.

The facility is a 3,500-square-foot play area within Scottish Rite.

“This is a phenomenal idea,” said a teary-eyed Brooks, who wore his signature black cowboy hat to the ribbon cutting. “It’s all about child life, and it’s all about the strength within us, the strength that God has given all of us to face those walls in our life. This place right here brings out that inner part that they have no medicine for, that they have no prescription for.

“I’m very proud to be part of this. Today makes me want to do this every day for the rest of my life.”

The Child Life Zone features indoor and outdoor areas that let kids be kids.

Inside are a demonstration kitchen, built-in gaming systems, a reading room, computers, a Garth Brooks stage and a stadium-style theater. Outside, the Child Life Zone offers a koi pond, putting green and basketball court.

“Our job every day is to do the very best thing we can for the kids that seek help from us,” said Donna Hyland, Children’s president and CEO. “This type of facility helps us not only to provide the best medical care, but even more so what kids need when they’re here, and that’s a safe haven — a place where they come, a place for them to be in their more normal life.

“As we all know, play is a child’s work. So it gets them back to that normal life that we are working so hard to help them achieve.”

The project came about through a partnership between Brooks’ charitable organization, Teammates for Kids, and the Troy Aikman Foundation.

Atlanta’s Child Life Zone is the sixth in the nation. The first was completed in 1994 at a hospital in Dallas. There are two other locations in Texas, one in Oklahoma City and one in New York City. The goal is to create the play areas at 10 to 12 hospitals throughout the United States.

“Here we are, we are still helping children one dream at a time, one hospital at a time, one city at a time,” Aikman said. “Knowing the difference we are making in the young children’s lives … giving them an opportunity to escape their own realities even if just for a short period of time is something that is very rewarding for me and is what motivates me to continue to stay involved.”

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