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Teddy Bear Lady helps sick kids turn crappy into happy

The Teddy Bear Lady and her sidekick Sunny Bear make their rounds at the pediatric unit at Montana Children's in Kalispell. In our Montana Moment,{ } we learn that "behind every dark storm there's always a rainbow."
The Teddy Bear Lady and her sidekick Sunny Bear make their rounds at the pediatric unit at Montana Children's in Kalispell. In our Montana Moment, we learn that "behind every dark storm there's always a rainbow."
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Nothing is more terrifying for a parent than to learn their child has been injured or is seriously ill.

For a sick kid, hospital stays can be long and anxious.

But at Montana Children's in Kalispell, Lori Williamson (The Teddy Bear Lady) and her sidekick Sunny Bear, say "after a storm there's always a rainbow."

NBC Montana met Lori and Sunny Bear, the life-sized mascot, " as they made their rounds in the pediatrics unit at Children's.

They make the visit every Tuesday afternoon.

Decked out in her famous teddy bear coat, Lori rolled her snack tray filled with healthy goodies through the corridors.

Singing "Hello Katie. Well, hello Katie," the Teddy Bear Lady came to Katie Bell's room.

"I'm here," announced Lori. "I have a stuffed animal for you."

"Ohh," laughed Katie, a 16-year-old high school junior from Anaconda, as she reached out to take a Sunny Bear.

Lori keeps lots of Sunny Bears available.

She designed them.

Around the neck of each one she ties a ribbon.

"A gift of love," she calls it.

Unlike Lori's rainbow-colored friend who accompanies her on her visits, these Sunny Bears are just the right size for holding and snuggling.

Lori also gave Katie's mom, Kim Bowers a bear.

Kim couldn't help but laugh as she took the multi-colored bear.

Lori had chocolate chip cookies and Cheetos for Kim and Katie too, plus lots of other snacks.

"Sunny Bear is saying I'm here to turn crappy into happy," said Lori.

Turning "crappy into happy" is the overall goal of the Teddy Bear Lady's non-profit, 406 For Kids.

406 helps sick kids, their parents and siblings through tough times.

"A little sunshine during that journey can make all the difference," she said.

The visit brightened Katie's day.

"She's goofy and I like her," said Katie of the Teddy Bear Lady. " And I like you too," she said, pointing to Sunny Bear. " You're colorful and I like it."

Katie is an engaging young woman with an infectious giggle and a warm disposition.

But for years, she has struggled with a genetic stomach disorder.

Feeding tubes and needles are never fun.

It's hard.

"It is," said Katie, as she extended both arms. " I have anxiety with IV's and getting my blood drawn, and I have three pokes in each arm."

The teenager has had to spend way too much time in hospitals.

"She's had three different hospital stays just this year," said Kim.

This is her second visit to Children's.

"Hopefully, they'll find some answers," said Kim.

No teenager should have to be sick.

But Katie believes if she's "mad or sulky," it's just going to make her feel worse.

"You have to find some kind of level of feeling okay about it," she reflected, " but not being okay about it."

Lori and Katie have become good friends.

After Lori's visit to her room, Katie came into the lobby to visit more.

Sitting across from each other, the two fell into deep conversation.

Lori's love of kids and animals began in Cut Bank.

She's a farm girl from a big family.

"All of it was part of growing up on a farm with six siblings," she said. "In Cut Bank, Montana, I learned about the innocence of children and baby animals."

When she grew up, she became a human resource manager at the Smurfitt-Stone Container paper mill in Frenchtown.

In her 25-years working there her biggest joy, she said, was helping families get the care they needed.

She was on the board of directors at Candle Lighters New York City, a non-profit that helps kids with cancer.

That's where she learned to turn crappy into happy.

While there, she met a young boy dealing with a fatal illness.

His name was Bruce.

Bruce loved the Star Wars character, Wampa.

On her teddy bear coat Wampa holds a special place.

"Bruce is in Heaven now," she said. "I wear him (Wampa) on my heart to remind me."

Lori said she herself has been "blessed" with a healthy family.

"I have two beautiful daughters that are now young adults and they're flourishing and doing well," she said. "My husband and I want to give back. I decided it was my mission to help families that are suffering from childhood illness or injury."

That's why they're building a respite home so parents and siblings with sick kids can take a break from the hospital.

It will be called "The Sunshine Factory."

Lori took us to the empty lot where it will be built.

"I'm standing right where the house will be," she said, as she walked the grassy area. "It will be a three-story house. On the outside of the house there will be a meditation garden."

She said Children's "world-class doctors and nurses" can get a break here too.

The Sunshine Factory will be 100 steps from Montana Children's.

There will be a living room and dining room and even a spa.

"The bottom floor will be a beautiful playground for siblings to come and play," she said. "Mom and dad can come and take a nice nap, a hot shower."

She said it will be "totally A.D.A. with an elevator.

From the main floor you will even be able to take a slide.

"You can ride a slide all the way to the playroom," said Lori.

She said ground will be broken in April with an expected grand opening around Christmas time next year.

"It's a great idea," said Kim Bowers. "That's something that's needed in a lot of places."

Kim knows how exhausting hospital stays can be.

Lori said Sunny Bear will live at the Sunshine Factory.

"He has a soul," she said of Sunny. "I know this because he makes everybody smile that gets to hold him.

"He's real," she said.

As real as rainbows.

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