Race champions Batson hospital

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 20, 2009

Lincoln County’s support for the Blair E. Batson Children’sHospital in Jackson is beyond reproach, hospital officials remarkedas the weekend’s racing activities got under way.

Jennifer Hospodor, the hospital’s assistant director ofcommunity affairs, said the Mississippi Gran Prix – now in itssecond year of collaboration with the hospital – is an importantfundraiser for Blair E. Batson. However, small, community-drivenevents like Friday’s pre-Gran Prix festival and welcoming party forthe hospital’s 2008 champion are the kind of cornerstone eventsupon which the hospital was built.

“That hospital was built dollar-by-dollar with community money,”she said. “It was built in a grassroots effort with events likethis.”

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Brookhavenites went all-out to support the hospital over theweekend. The bike race itself aimed to collect and donate $100,000to Blair E. Batson, while the pre-race festival of live music andchildren’s activities sought a further $5,000. The welcoming partyfor 11-year-old cancer survivor Colby Barrett was a free event, butHospodor said it, too helps fill the hospital’s coffers with adifferent kind of wealth.

“We’re here to support Colby, hand out information and put aface on the hospital,” she said. “People always want to know moreabout what we treat, and we treat everything – from sickle cellanemia to cancer to broken arms.”

Hospodor said Blair E. Batson – the children’s branch ofUniversity of Mississippi Medical Center – treated 1,400 childrenfrom Lincoln County in 2008 alone, and treats approximately 150,000Mississippi children each year. Lincoln County’s Emily Barber, a4-year-old battling a nerve cancer called neuroblastoma, iscurrently being treated there.

Despite its Jackson location, she said the hospital considersitself to be a hospital for every community in the state.

“Mississippi, as a whole, is like one small town,” she said.”It’s the small towns like this that do fundraising that reallymake a big impact. It’s a state institution, and we don’t alwaysknow what we’re going to get from the government.”

Last year, Brookhaven’s Mississippi Gran Prix raised $30,000 forthe hospital, an amount Hospodor called an “enormous help.” Themoney went toward the construction of a new children’s emergencyroom, and this year’s total – whatever it is – will go towardstocking the new department with medical equipment, she said.

“The ER all came from events like this,” Hospodor said. “Our ERshares an entrance with the adult ER, which is not always the bestsituation for scared kids to come into the hospital. We’re a LevelOne Trauma Center.”

While the hospital will soon have a new way for children toenter, Brookhaven is always delighted to see them exit. For thesecond consecutive year, Barrett – who is recovering fromrhabdomyosarcoma, a muscle cancer that develops during theembryonic stage – was received by city officials and showered withappreciation and gifts for his courage.

“It makes me feel good,” he said of the city’s support.

Barrett said he has changed during his recovery, even since hislast visit to Brookhaven in April 2008. He said he feels healthierand stronger since the end of radiation treatments. His mother,Cathy Germany, said Barrett has grown more than two inches and nowweighs 110 pounds. The small boy growth spurt is on, as evidencedby a voice deeper than the pitchy words of last year’s10-year-old.

Barrett’s trials have also taught him plenty about life.

“I’m 11, going on 30,” Barrett said. “My counselor said I justact like I’m an adult sometimes. Sometimes, I just want to grow upfaster.”

Barrett said he was happy to visit Brookhaven again, a citythat’s quickly become a favorite destination of his. Germany saidhe even asked if the family could move to Brookhaven from theirhome in Brandon.

“It’s a beautiful, nestled town, and everyone’s peaceful,”Barrett said.

Not only has the ordeal changed Barrett, it has changed hismother. Germany said she has reneged an old promise to herself toavoid the heart-breaking scene of a sick child and has enrolled inthe nursing program at Hinds Community College.

“The reason I’m doing it is because Colby and I had a pinkiepromise,” Germany explained. “He said I always knew how to takemake everyone in the family feel better, and he wished I was anurse [at Blair E. Batson] so I could take care of his friends. IfI can make a difference in another child’s life or another mother’sjourney; if I can help the pain, hold a hand or give a heart, Iwant to do that.”