Patient and parent, Welch knows value of Children’s Hospital
Published on Monday, October 22, 2018
By: Annie Oeth, email@example.com
When Paige Staggs Welch volunteers to help Children’s of Mississippi, she knows she’s helping a place she credits with saving her life and giving a healthy start to her son: Batson Children’s Hospital.
“Anything I can do to help Batson, I try my hardest to be there,” said the Vidalia, Louisiana, resident at the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship, “even if it’s driving two hours out of my way to do it.”
This year’s Sanderson Farms Championship events begin Oct. 22, with tournament play set for Oct. 25-28 at the Country Club of Jackson.
The tournament, Mississippi’s only PGA TOUR event, raises millions of dollars each year for Friends of Children’s Hospital, a private group that raises money to benefit Children’s. Tournament host Century Club Charities donated a record $1.2 million to Friends earlier this year from the 2017 tournament.
Since 2013, the Sanderson Farms Championship has donated more than $5.5 million to Friends, one of many nonprofit groups the tournament benefits. In 2016, Friends pledged $20 million to the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, a philanthropic drive to help fund the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s pediatric expansion, which is now under construction.
Welch, 28, came to Batson Children’s Hospital at 15 after waking up one day unable to walk.
“My mom took me to our family doctor in Natchez,” she said, “and he did some scans. He said, ‘You need to get to Batson as fast as you can.’”
Once the Staggs family arrived at the state’s only children’s hospital, “within 10 minutes they had us in a room and were starting scans immediately.”
A 13-inch tumor was found on Paige’s spine, and emergency surgery was needed to keep her from being paralyzed.
“About five days later, I was still at the hospital, and they told me it was Burkitt’s lymphoma, and it’s stage 4. I had about a 70 percent chance of having less than two weeks to live unless I underwent chemo. … I was two weeks shy of my 16th birthday.”
Paige was a teenager, but she soon was fighting cancer like a warrior. “I did eight rounds of very strong chemo,” she said. “They gave me adult doses because my cancer was so aggressive that it could triple in size overnight, so they had to fight it like that.”
Young cancer patients can be tempted to throw a pity party after diagnosis, said Dr. Gail Megason, Paige’s oncologist and former director of the Children’s Cancer Center, “but there was none of that ‘poor, pitiful me’ business from her. She dealt with everything she had to go through to get well.”
Paige fought, and she won. Each year she is cancer free, she poses for a photo in front of the Children’s Cancer Center at Batson, holding up a sign showing the number of years.
During that time, she graduated from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 2009, earning her associate’s degree. She married Mark Welch in 2015.
In her 11th anniversary “cancer free” photo, Paige was pregnant with her son, Jack.
“He is our miracle child,” she said. “One of the possible side effect of my chemo was that I might not have been able to have children, but God blessed us with a wonderful little boy. He will be 2 in May, and he is so, so, so active. Jack loves to swim, play with his cousins and eat! He is going to be a big brother in April and is already talking so much about ‘baby.’”
Having been a Batson patient, Paige and Mark felt confident in the care Jack would receive there when he was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia as an infant.
“I have always said that if I have a child and they needed medical care,” Paige said. “I know exactly where I’m taking them.”
Jack’s pediatrician recommended surgery. “She said, ‘Where do you want to go?’ I said, ‘Batson.’ She said, ‘You didn’t even hear about the other places.’ I said, ‘We’re going to Batson.’”
Paige and Mark teamed up to support the Children’s Cancer Center at Batson, creating Band-Aids for Batson, or B4B.
“We started B4B right before we got married,” she said. “We wanted a way to thank the hospital for allowing me to grow up and continue my life. We wake up every morning and thank God for healing me, but it is really hard to thank a hospital. We decided to collect children’s themed Band-Aids for Batson.”
Paige said when she was a patient, Band-Aids were a great help. “When I was in the hospital, one of my chemos would make my hands and feet peel so bad. The only thing that would help would be to cover myself in Band-Aids. My mama would tell me that looking at my hands and feet was like reading the comics.”
To date, the Welches have collected 7,525 boxes of Band-Aids. “That’s 150,500 ouchies we helped cover up!”
The couple also have volunteered at Camp Rainbow, a summer camp for young cancer patients.
“Having gone through treatment, I knew how it could affect your body, but those kids never slow down,” Paige said. “I remember on the way home from camp my first year as a counselor, I cried.”
While Paige was a volunteer in the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship, the tournament filmed a video of her sharing why Batson is close to her heart.
Looking to the future, the Welch family plans to keep supporting Children’s during the construction of a seven-story pediatric expansion adjacent to Batson.
“Mark and I have literally jumped off a building for this expansion,” Paige laughed, referring to the Friends of Children’s Hospital fundraiser Over The Edge, which has participants collecting donations to rappel off the Trustmark building in downtown Jackson.
The expansion, which will include private neonatal and pediatric intensive care rooms, additional operating suites, an imaging center for children and an outpatient specialty clinic, “will give doctors there the opportunity to help more children, to beat more types of cancer and to save more lives,” she said.
“Batson means the world to me. Every one of our doctors and nurses are like family,” she said. “Without this hospital, I wouldn’t be here. Batson gave me my life back.”