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New kids' ER debuts at Cohen Medical Center in New Hyde Park

An exterior view of the Long Island Jewish

An exterior view of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center's Inpatient Tower in New Hyde Park. (Dec. 08, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Ryan Barnett was in a pediatric emergency room waiting room Thursday, but he was actually having fun as he created a virtual fish that swam in an interactive "fish tank."

The 9-year-old from Greenlawn was on hand to help showcase the stand-alone ER, part of Cohen Children's Medical Center's new $130-million pavilion that will be fully operational in the next few weeks.

The five-story addition to the campus of Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, doubles the size of Cohen's emergency department to 30 beds, expands the pediatric intensive care unit to 37 and adds 50 private rooms.

Years of planning went into making the new facility child-friendly, said the chairman of pediatrics, Dr. Charles Schleien. "Kids almost want to be here," he said.

Using a "Finding Nemo"-like motif, the waiting area contains an interactive display that allows children to create and adorn their own fish, which then swims up into the "tank." Floors and walls are decorated with shells and fish. Even the CT scan is brightly painted with fish.

All of which seemed to interest Ryan Thursday.

Early last month, it was not clear that the fourth grader was going to live, said Dr. Peter Silver, chief of pediatric critical care at Cohen.

Transferred from another hospital accompanied by three doctors in the ambulance, Ryan, in a coma, was diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome. It was caused by a strep infection that had spread from his sinuses to his eyes and skull and was perilously close to his brain, Silver said. Toxic shock syndrome is rare in children, he said, affecting about 1,000 children a year. But it can be lethal, killing about 20 to 30 percent.

Pumped full of antibiotics from multiple intravenous lines, Ryan was sitting up within three days. Now he's almost back to normal, Silver said.

Asked about his time in the hospital, Ryan said he didn't recall much. "I remember half of it," he said. "I remember being scared."