All Aboard! How the Train Display Came To Be at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children

For the past 15 years, Betty and Vic Gilbert have been the caretakers of one of the most beloved spots inside Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

The train display is a heartwarming sight seen daily by children, parents and team members as they make their way into the heart of the hospital. On any given day, you will see a patient or sibling standing next to the display, pushing the green button to make the train come to life. While this sight has been a staple at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer for many years, visitors and team members may not know the history behind the train and how it remains a part of our hospital today.

In the summer of 2006, the Director of the Florida Garden Railway Society was searching for a local Central Florida hospital that would be interested in receiving a train display, and Betty and Vic knew of just the place. Their daughter, Cindy, had worked for Orlando Health Arnold Palmer since 1986 as a pediatric nurse and contact was soon made with Child Life Services.

To get the project underway, many Railway Society members volunteered, providing financial support and physical labor to build a sturdy display. The women of the Railway Society contributed by making 14 gingerbread houses to decorate around the track. Initially, the train was only intended to be up and running from Thanksgiving through Christmas. However, it became so popular that hospital administration chose to keep the display, bringing joy to patients year-round.

Design and construction took a lot of time and effort, and its maintenance has required the same. For seven years, until November 2013, 12 couples and individuals assisted Betty and Vic with track cleaning and train maintenance on a weekly basis, each covering a month of the year. Since then, all the maintenance, cleaning and season changes have been done by Betty and Vic. 

Originally located in the lobby entrance of the hospital, by the end of 2013, the train display’s location was needed for a larger patient waiting area as well as the current coffee shop. By that time, the original display had aged, and there was a movement for a newer and more professionally finished display. Today, the train can be seen when passing through the hallway to the main patient area and has been upgraded from its original single level track.

Betty and Vic have both had careers in medicine – Betty a Registered Nurse and a Medicare Compliance Director, and Vic a retired family doctor – and know the impact a display like this in a hospital can have on patients.

“For us, the reason we have continued our efforts for so long regarding the train display is because of the children, their families and all the personnel that are associated with the hospital. There has always been a time when parents have stopped by, thanking us for all our effort and assuring us that their child loves the trains. We have to believe it offers all of them some hope and relief during such a difficult time and that our efforts are worthwhile,” the couple says.

After over a decade of dedicating their time on a weekly basis to keep the train up and running, Betty and Vic have now transferred their role as caretakers to their son, Chris, and his family. Chris, who served in the Navy and has been a commercial pilot for over 15 years, lives in Kissimmee with his wife, Ginger, and two teenage girls, Erin and Reagan, who will be helping him with the train maintenance.

We could not be more grateful to Betty and Vic for their years of generosity and thank them for the immense impact their efforts have had on the patients, families and team members at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer. The train display creates countless smiles and brings pure joy to all those who pass through our hospital.

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