Toy trends may come and go, but one thing remains consistent: Kids love to ride in wagons.

Never was this made clearer to Adam Garone than when his then 3-year-old niece, Charlie was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2018. During her eight-month stay in the Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, the medical staff shuttled her around to chemotherapy treatments and MRI scans in a Radio Flyer wagon. 

"The wagon was an integral part of normalizing and allowing Charlie to feel a little bit like a kid," says Garone, who serves as CEO of the Starlight Children's Foundation. "She could smile and have fun." Garone did not know it then, but this personal experience would greatly inform his involvement with Radio Flyer the following year.

Radio Flyer is a four-time Inc. 5000 honoree and pulled in $200 million in revenue last year. While the company has worked with Starlight since 2001 to donate wagons to more than 800 hospitals around the country, in 2019 Garone and Radio Flyer CEO Robert Pasin decided to collaborate to adapt the wagons for hospital settings. This month, they will launch the newly patented design, the Hero Wagon, retrofitted specifically to transport sick children safely.

The new Hero Wagon features a medical-grade, easy-to-disinfect fabric exterior, instead of the classic, but bulky, metal frame. The design is foldable, allowing hospital staff to collapse the wagon for storage and keep more on site. The Radio Flyer team added an IV bracket and clamp on the back so that a nurse or family member can pull the wagon without also needing to hang on to equipment poles or monitors. The handle now features a spring so that it won't fall down when you let go. Lastly, the team included a clear plastic pouch for the exterior--a dedicated spot for kids to slip in a drawing or photo, thereby giving them a sense of ownership over their wagon.

The Hero Wagon redesign came about largely because the two organizations began to hear how hospital staff were customizing the wagons themselves to fit their needs, says Pasin. So Radio Flyer assembled a team of designers, researchers, and engineers to visit children's hospitals and conduct interviews with nurses and families to learn firsthand about the user experience. These in-person customer discovery sessions were crucial to the product's eventual design, Pasin notes.

During the redesign process, the team made use of Radio Flyer's prototype shop where they were able to experiment with sewing, metal fabrication, welding, and 3-D printing. They deployed various wagon prototypes at the Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, to gather feedback on the new features and ideas for tweaks.

The Radio Flyer and Starlight teams collectively poured more than 1,000 hours into the charitable project, estimates Mark Johnson, vice president of product development for Radio Flyer. The Hero Wagon is now in hospitals in 82 cities across 33 U.S. states and counting--each year, the organizations donate 1,000 wagons, with half going to medically underserved communities. Consumers also can donate money to the Hero Wagon project.  

"It's just been this incredible partnership," says Pasin, who's led the company since 1997 and is the grandson of Antonio Pasin, who founded Radio Flyer in 1917. "We've gotten hundreds of photos and stories through the years from families telling us how the Radio Flyer wagon was a bright spot for them."