Whee Wagon program continues steady growth

An on-campus organization is continuing to take great strides to provide children in hospitals with a unique gift.

Whee Wagon, a program started in 2015 through the WCU School of Nursing, is dedicated to supplying sick children wagons equipped with IV poles. The program has grown steadily since its inauguration and continues to donate to facilities and families in Western North Carolina and beyond.

Susan Hester, Whee Wagon project coordinator, worked as a pediatric registered nurse in Atlanta before becoming faculty at Western Carolina University’s School of Nursing, in pediatric care. When she saw the wagons, which are regular Radio Flyer wagon with an attached IV pole bracket, she decided to bring the idea with her to Cullowhee.

WCU nursing students gather around a patient as he rides in the wagon for the first time. Photo by Jeffery Neufeld

“IV pole wagons are a new, safe way to transport children around with IV therapy. Plus, kids love riding in a wagon, it makes them happy,” Hester explained in an interview. “When a child is in a hospital environment, it can be intimidating. Kids who are able to use the wagons may have lower levels of pain and anxiety while increasing their coping in medical environments.”

The Whee Wagon program has donated over 20 wagons in under two years of existence, a fact that Hester contributes to the numerous providers to the program.

“We’ve been fortunate to have received tax exempt donations from the WCU Chancellor and his wife, local businesses, clubs, private individuals and the Great Smokies Health Foundation,” Hester said. “We also have nursing and communication students who work with this program for service learning.” The service learning aspect of Whee Wagon helps nursing students experience different aspects of the program and decide what they would like to do when they graduate.

Children in Western North Carolina are not the only one’s experiencing the joy that Whee Wagon can bring. One wagon has gone to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Levine’s Children Hospital in Charlotte received eight wagons on Feb. 21.

The generosity and donations from numerous organizations and the focus on spreading its message through WCU Whee Wagons on Facebook and their website is encouraging students to live by the motto of the program: “play it forward.”

WCU nursing and Levine Children’s Hospital staff celebrate the donation of eight wagons. Photo by Jeffery Neufeld

“Being part of the Whee Wagon team was one of my greatest accomplishments during my time in the School of Nursing,” emailed Kelsey Vaughn, a nursing student who worked with Whee Wagon in 2016. “I know as I move forward in my career as a nurse I will encourage eligible families that I meet along the way to apply for a wagon as I have seen what a difference a wagon can make for these children.”

“Because this is all service learning and volunteer-based, it helps everyone grow and learn,” said Jeffery Neufeld, a communication intern for Whee Wagon.

Hester states the overarching aim for the program is to get as many wagons to children as possible with the hopes of donating another wagon to a low-income pediatric hospital in Jamaica by next year.

“We want the program to be both sustainable and replicable. We have a business plan of how we made this program on our website and we hope to provide other schools or nursing programs with a road map to get them started,” Hester explained.

“Originally we thought we’d only be able to donate three or four wagons a year,” said Hester. “But thanks to our donors, we have been able to contribute 22 wagons to different areas and have watched this program grow.”

“There’s nothing like seeing the look of joy on someone’s face when you give them a wagon,” said Tess Schneider, another student working with Whee Wagon. “Learning these lessons and seeing the impact that Whee Wagon brings, that means a lot going forward.”