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Children's celebrates anniversary

POSTED: June 3, 2012 10:30 a.m.
Autumn Vetter/

Nurse Kathy Vinson, right, talks with Cassie Mills about son Ashton Friday at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth.

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Every young patient who visited Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Forsyth on Friday got to leave with a shiny red, green or blue balloon.

The helium-filled treats were given out to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the 20,000-square-foot outpatient facility at The Avenue Forsyth on Peachtree Parkway.

Linda Cole, Children’s vice president of ambulatory and emergency services, said it was hard to believe the children’s medical center has been open a year.

“We feel very grateful to the community that has embraced us and [for] the partnership we have with the community and with the other nonprofits in the community,” Cole said.

On Friday, the facility received a $7,500 donation from the Sawnee-Cumming Optimist Club as a result of its inaugural golf tournament May 11.

Cole said the gift is one of many the nonprofit facility has received since its opening. Many have gone toward the purchase of a pediatric ambulance, which will be stationed at the facility to serve Forsyth and other northeast Georgia counties.

The highly specialized vehicle costs about $700,000, and leaders want to raise $1 million to also cover the operating and maintenance costs associated with it.

“The ambulance itself is now paid for,” Cole said Friday. “But we still are working to complete some of the bells and whistles for it.

“It’s very close. We’ll probably have it here in the next few months.”

Cole said donations for the ambulance and other Children’s programs have been “phenomenal.”

“It ranges from … Tommy Bagwell with American Proteins who donated $360,000 for the ambulance to … little girls having lemonade stands and bringing us $17 in a little plastic baggy,” Cole said. “We’ve had the gamut of community support.”

Beth Buursema, Children’s community outreach liaison, said the site has also received heavy support from area businesses.

She said a number of restaurants, including Norman’s Landing, Tam’s Backstage, Moe’s, Chick-fil-A and Mellow Mushroom, have held “family nights” or other fundraisers for the facility.

And every donation helps, Buursema said.

“People feel when you make a donation that it has to be something big, but we see on many levels the difference that 50 cents or $5 can make,” she said. “All that adds up to make a huge difference in the life of a child.”

The lives of many children have been touched by the opening of the local site.

Cole said the facility, which offers a wide range of services, has had more than 50,000 visits since it debuted. That’s about double what leaders projected.

“Even in the sub-specialty areas, most of those physicians anticipated being here one to two days a month and they’ve increased to three or four days a month because there has been such a great outpouring of people using our facility,” she said.

In the facility’s immediate care and sports medicine areas, Cole said staffing has doubled.

“In sports medicine we started with one therapist, we’ve doubled it to two and we’re looking at hiring a third,” she said. “We’re going to have to do a little physical rearrangement to make room for a third.

“That’s pretty phenomenal for your first birthday that you’re already having to see if you can take out some offices to create more space for patients.”

Deirdre Stewart, the facility’s lead physician, agreed the site has experienced some “growing pains,” but said most of those have been resolved.

“We’ve grown and added people and accommodated that,” she said, noting that despite the challenges parents have been appreciative.

“It’s right here in this community, it’s close and people love it,” she said. “We’re brand new and we still have people that are completely wowed by how great it looks.”

Cassie Mills, mother of Kendall, 2, and Ashton, 9 months, said she’s glad the facility is available to her family.

“Obviously living up in Cumming it’s been very convenient to have something right here because before we had to drive down to Mansell [Road in Alpharetta],” Mills said. “We love having it here.”

Most of the facility’s staff seems to enjoy it as well.

Nurse Elzbieta Kowalczyk, a native of Poland who’s lived in the U.S. for 23 years, said she enjoys helping both the young patients and their families.

“I’ve been a pediatric nurse for over 20 years and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do, to help little munchkins come and get better,” she said. “The parents are wonderful too.

“Like yesterday, we helped a lady with her little boy who was very, very sick and she was just so thankful … she was like, ‘You must be a great mommy because you take care of him just like I would take care of him.’”

Stewart echoed those sentiments.

“For me, I like [working here] because you’re taking care of the child,” she said. “But there’s also a stressed-out mom or a stressed-out dad or grandparent, so you’re getting to help multiple people and reach out to them and change their family and … help them through tough times.”

 

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