Life as they knew it dramatically changed for Jackson parents Tony and Rosalind Yarber when they got a chilling diagnosis: Their baby, Toni Michelle, had ovarian cancer.
But thanks to the care of pediatrician Dr. Gail Megason and her team at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children, Toni Michelle today is a healthy 9-year-old. Her dad, a former Jackson City Council member who now serves as mayor, is grateful for the care provided not just to his child, but to thousands of others.
On Monday, Yarber proclaimed it Batson Children’s Day, presenting Guy Giesecke, CEO of Batson, with a proclamation honoring faculty and staff for their exemplary care. Batson is the only hospital in Mississippi devoted exclusively to the care and treatment of sick and injured youngsters.
Mayor Yarber with daughter Toni Michelle
“One of the ways to give back … is to use this bully pulpit to celebrate and support a hospital that supported my family during a very hard time, and to ensure that every Jacksonian, every Mississippian, understands and knows that,” Yarber said before reading the proclamation.
“It is the vision of the city of Jackson to ensure that the influential work of Blair E. Batson is championed and honored throughout our state and nation,” the proclamation reads in part, giving tribute to the revered physician and first chairman of UMMC’s Department of Pediatrics for whom the hospital is named.
That document heralds a new day for the hospital and the city, Giesecke said. “This is the beginning of a new partnership” with Jackson, he said during a news conference to announce the proclamation.
“We have a big responsibility as a children’s hospital, and we take it very seriously,” Giesecke said. “We’ve taken on a new mission in the last couple of years to touch and have an impact on every child in Mississippi. We want to have an influence on their health and well-being.”
Yarber and his wife remember well their experiences at Batson – fear and surprise at Toni Michelle’s diagnosis and surgery that followed when she was just eight months old, but thanks and relief for the care she received.
“As you can imagine, two young parents with a brand new baby … and you find out she has a potentially life-threatening illness,” Yarber told those gathered at the news conference. “I had to place all my daddy power in Dr. Megason’s hands.”
Toni Michelle had a teratoma of her ovary, “which is more common than you’d think in young girls,” said Megason, professor of pediatric hematology-oncology and director of Children’s of Mississippi Cancer Center. “We look to see if there are malignant elements in it.
“Thankfully, she didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation,” Megason said. “She had surgery, and then we just followed her for five years.”
Toni Michelle, a student in the Jackson school district’s Academic and Performing Arts Complex, “is full of drama,” her dad says. Toni Michelle couldn’t agree more.
She loves to act, and that means “you can use any kind of voices that you want,” Toni Michelle said.
During the time she was a regular patient, “She was a champ. She was a trooper,” Rosalind Yarber said of Toni Michelle. “Thank God for Dr. Megason and the team here. They were excellent.”
Batson Hospital, the mayor said, is a resource all of Mississippi can be proud of, and that all of Mississippi should support.
“This is a hospital that is right here in our back door. This is a hospital that specifically does not turn children away,” Yarber said. “This is a hospital that cares for every child that comes through the door.”