ROCKFORD (WREX) — It's hard to miss the smiling faces of kids plastered across the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.
Since 2003, Mercyhealth's doctor's office on wheels, in partnership with the Madison chapter of the Ronald McDonald house, has traveled across the Stateline to provide care to kids.
The entire time, Toni Ellingson at the proverbial wheel.
"We are basically a mobile pediatric office and we provide free medical care for kids who don't have insurance or who have Medicaid," Ellingson.
Ellingson left a different pediatric job to join the care mobile.
She saw this as a great opportunity to reach more kids, the children that need her help most.
"I love the fact that we are able to see children who don't have another place to be seen," Ellingson said.
"These are kids that can really fall through the cracks. This is important to me."
Ellingson's passion is infectious to anyone who hops onto the care mobile.
Shannon Belmonte joined the ride a couple years ago and is amazed by how Ellingson is able to work with so many kids day to day.
"It's very clear when you hear her speak with the children and take the time to make sure all their problems are addressed. It's quite amazing actually," Belmonte said.
Whether it's scheduled school trips or more impromptu visits, the care mobile has left its mark on the 815.
Since 2003, more than 10,000 kids have been served, nearly 13,000 patients visits have taken place and $2.4 million in free care has been administered.
Thanks in large part to the dedication of Toni Ellingson.
Looking past all the facts and figures, Ellingson's heart lies in the importance of showing kids going to the doctor can be a fun.
It doesn't have to be a scary place.
As a child walks into the care mobile, surrounded by fish and bubbles on the walls of the ocean room or see the wildlife painting onto the sides of the jungle room, they enter an environment opening them up to the fun side of health.
Ellingson uses it as a way to keep them calm to proper explain to them how important their health is.
"One of the key tenants of a visit with us is educating them about their lives and about their health," Ellingson said.
"I'm able to spend a little bit longer with these children and educate them about things that are important to them."
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