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Dollhouse Maker Builds Happiness For The Holidays

Ken and Cecilia Christopherson are channeling Saint Nick in a very real way.  Part treasure hunter, part master craftsman, Ken builds dollhouses from scratch. Each one takes 100 hours to construct, and each one goes to a very sick child stuck in the hospital for the holidays.

He sands the frame, cuts wood for tiny pieces of furniture, paints, details and designs every square inch until he has a 2-foot-tall custom creation.

They’re so beautiful that Ken is constantly mobbed with wanna-be customers. But these dollhouses aren’t for sale.

“My wife had just had cancer and we decided, well we’re just going to see if the cancer hospital would like dollhouses,” Ken says. “We started five years ago, and we’ve delivered 62 custom-built dollhouses so far.”

Cecilia is a breast cancer survivor who endured more than a year of chemotherapy. She says donating to Children’s Medical Center means the world to her.

“I know what it feels like to be on the other side of cancer," she says. "Having chemo and having needles stuck into you and to be sitting there unable to do anything else but sit there and have this medicine poured into you."

So the dollhouse project, born from the simple desire to brighten a sick child’s day, has taken on a life of its own. Ken and Cecilia’s home in Sachse is crammed with work tables piled high with wood scraps, paint, beads and princess figurines. After a successful run of girls' dollhouses, Ken decided to expand.

“People have been telling me I need to do something for the boys, and I found the front of a barn on sale at Hobby Lobby and I bought it for $1.50, brought it home, copied it and now we’re making barns,” he says.

Instead of traditional farm animals, Ken fills the barns with dinosaurs and other dangerous creatures. As you can imagine, they’re a big hit with the boys.

The Christophersons are very sensitive to their little consumers.

“We build them a foot wide, that way they fit onto the little table that rolls up to the bed,” Ken says.

Each time the Christophersons make a delivery to Children’s Medical Center, they unload, but don’t stick around. They say they don’t want the patients or their families to feel obligated to say thank you.

Kenedi Groves is one of the kids enthralled with the gift.

“I love my dollhouse, it’s special to me,” she says. “I always play with it. I love it!”

Kenedi just turned 7 on Tuesday. As she bustles around pointing out her favorite pieces of furniture, it’s obvious each hour the Christophersons put into her purple-and-black-mini-mansion was an hour well spent.

“I love the little Kleenexes, all the details,” she says.

Kenedi has been in Childrens' Cardiac Intensive Care Unit for four and a half months. She can’t leave the hospital because she’s been fitted with an artificial heart, called a Berlin, while she waits on a transplant. She has been through a lot, including a stroke when she first went on the Berlin. But her beloved dollhouse has been a bright spot.

“I wish I always had it,” said Kenedi. “I just love it.”

And the Christophersons are determined to keep building hope for every child they can.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.