Former patients of the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida shared how it had affected their lives during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new building set to open in 2017.
Not only did the April 29 groundbreaking move the first heap of dirt, but it was also a celebration of the hospital's 20th anniversary and the fact that the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation had managed to raise $83 million in funds to initiate construction.
The Bulloch family, including Stacey, Rob, and their son Harrison, told the story of Harrison's stay at the hospital. At 20 weeks into Stacey Bulloch's pregnancy, the family learned that something was wrong and her appointments were steadily increased from weekly to three-times-per-week.
Stacey Bulloch walks her son Harrison to the ground breaking. MCKENZIE CASSIDY.
Finally, at seven months, the doctor said that Harrison needed to be born.
"We met with the doctor, and at that time, he told us that Harrison had stopped growing completely and it was time for him to make his way into the world because his chances were much better outside," said Stacey. "Fortunately, for us, the doctor had called up to the children's hospital to see if there was room and a baby was being discharged from the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) that morning and that was the only way we were able to be here."
Although the current children's hospital inside HealthPark Medical Center has 98-beds, it services 5,000 in-patient visits, 4,000 out-patient visits, and 28,000 pediatric emergency visits each year.
Harrison needed an open spot in the NICU, which has a limited number of beds. If room hadn't been found, Stacey and Harrison would've been transported to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg or Miami Children's Hospital.
"We were able to stay close to home and have Harrison here at the children's hospital," she said.
Harrison was a patient for two months and his parents visited him from their home in Naples as many as three-times-per-day, which was still challenging with a 45-minute drive to Fort Myers.
"By the time we visited and got back home, it was 10 or 11 o'clock at night," she said.
The family persevered and eventually were cleared to take Harrison home. During the groundbreaking ceremony, Rob Bulloch walked Harrison, who has grown into a healthy toddler, around the parking lot as Stacey addressed the audience.
Julie Briggs was another former patient who had been diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 10 and received the majority of her treatment at the Golisano Children's Hospital. She was one of the first patients to be seen by Dr. Emad Salman, M.D., the hospital's medical director of Hematology and Oncology.
"Many children and their families had to travel to either Miami or Tampa just to receive the treatment they needed," she said. "And often, on their way home, they had to head right back if that child got sick."
Briggs said she had been blessed to be a patient at the local children's hospital and thanked Dr. Salman and the nursing staff who treated her in 1997. She recently served as a member of the Patient Advisory Board who assisted in developing the new facility.
"I can't stress enough the importance of being able to keep children and their families close to home," said Briggs. "I'm excited to see the hospital grow, not only for the services, but the quality. We can let children simply be children. And that was the single most important thing in my treatment."
The new children's hospital will open with a total of 128 total beds, with the possibility of expanding to 160 if needed; new state-of-the-art equipment; an expansion of private rooms in the NICU, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and Medical/Surgical Unit; 12-beds in the Chrissy Brown Hematology/Oncology Inpatient Unit; and increased space for examination rooms, playrooms, a family resource center, and more.
Kathy Bridge-Liles, chief administrative officer for the Golisano Children's Hospital, discussed how the hospital had changed over the past two decades.
"Children's services have grown, so without the HealthPark Medical Center leadership team, working side by side with us, every single day trying to figure out where we can put one more child or adult, trying to figure it all out as a team, the past 20 years wouldn't have been possible," said Bridge-Liles.
Lee Memorial Health System President Jim Nathan explained how the children's hospital project had reached the next step in its development.
"The reality is we continue to send too many out of the community and our goal is to keep children as close to home as possible," said Nathan. "We are about to take the next step in the maturation of the 'Little Hospital that Could.'"
For more information about the capital campaign or new facility, visit childrenshospitalgoal.org.