Costumed children laughed and frolicked under sunny October skies while the grown-ups caught up over hotdogs and soft drinks.
Part fall festival, part get-together, the Children's Heart Center's Family Reunion brought together young patients and their parents with the cardiologists, surgeons and staff members who worked to keep them healthy. Children's Heart Center is part of Batson Children's Hospital on the campus of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Hosted at the home of Children's Heart Center Medical Director Dr. Jorge Salazar, the event is a milestone for the center. “This is the first reunion we've had in five and a half years,” Salazar said, “because we've been so busy building a program.”
Nikki Mims and son Mason attended the Children's Heart Center family reunion at the home of Dr. Jorge Salazar.
Watching the parents and children, more than 50 in all, enjoying the fall day, Salazar said, “The Children's Heart Center has touched so many families. Everyone here has been touched by the pediatric heart program in some way.”
The only program of its kind in Mississippi, the center performs about 450 surgeries each year and reaches about 5,000 children in follow-up care.
For parents of “heart babies,” the doctors and staff become part of their family.
“This really is a family reunion,” said Heather Shelton, whose son Garrett has had 18 surgeries at Batson Children's Hospital including three that were heart-related. “These people are like family.”
The Children's Heart Center has “the most caring, compassionate physicians you could ask for,” said Bethany Logan, whose daughter Stevie, 9 months, has had two heart surgeries in her young life.
Stevie Logan sits in grass for the first time. Mom Bethany helps her feel the blades.
Logan and her husband Nathan, of Terry, spent Christmas last year at Batson Children's Hospital. “Especially since we were here during the holidays, it was wonderful to have people who took such good care of not only our daughter but of us as parents as well.”
Seeing all the families together with their growing children is “rewarding,” said pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Ali Dodge-Khatami. “We can see them grow and play. Some of the children are four to five years out from their surgery now.”
Included in those attending were 5-year-old Christopher McRae, of Laurel, Salazar's first patient at the Children's Heart Clinic, a heart patient who was 1.4 pounds at birth, and Cayson Sanderford, 4, of Mathiston, who had the Children's Heart Center's first surgery to start the correction process for his hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital defect in which the left side of the heart is critically underdeveloped.
Growing, healthy children are an inspiration for families, said James Polson, center administrator. “The neat thing about this event is that parents of little babies who cannot see four years down the road get to meet families whose children are older and are healthy. It's hope right in front of them.”
Heart patients at Batson Children's Hospital and their parents attended the Children's Heart Center family reunion at the home of Dr. Jorge Salazar.