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Tournament hits a hole in $1M for Mississippi's children

Published on Thursday, January 8, 2015

By: Ruth Cummins .

Published in News Stories on January 08, 2015

Mississippi children’s lives, Gov. Phil Bryant says, have “literally been saved” thanks to generous gifts benefiting Batson Children’s Hospital from the professional golf tournament now known as the Sanderson Farms Championship.

“Parents come here to see miracles done for their children,” Bryant said Tuesday at the hospital as officials from Sanderson Farms, the tournament’s title sponsor, and Century Club Charities, the host organization, announced a record $1.1 million gift to Friends of Children’s Hospital, a fundraising organization for Batson.

The gift was generated from the 2014 tournament held in November at the Country Club of Jackson. Sanderson Farms stepped up to the plate as its title sponsor in 2013 at a time when Mississippi verged on losing the PGA Tour event after its previous lead sponsor bowed out.

“What Joe Sanderson did saves lives,” Bryant said of Sanderson Farms’ CEO and board chairman. “Children’s lives will forever be better because of him.”

The gift comes as Friends of Children’s Hospital is fulfilling its pledge to raise $2M to help build a pediatric heart center at Batson. The Children’s Heart Center currently occupies space at Batson, but has no bricks-and-mortar home of its own.

Salazar, center, and wife April speak with Sanderson after the announcement
Salazar, center, and wife April speak with Sanderson after the announcement

More than 1,000 babies and children each year receive life-changing and complex treatment at the Children’s Heart Center, but current space allocated for such procedures is but a fraction of what’s needed. Ditto for staff, patient beds, and imaging equipment needed to diagnose and treat congenital heart defects, which affect nearly one out of every 100 babies born.

“We’re at a very critical point in the development of the Heart Center,” said Dr. Jorge Salazar, chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and co-director of the Children’s Heart Center. Dr. Mary Taylor, chief of the divisions of pediatric critical care and pediatric cardiology, also is co-director.

The continued support of the championship and Century Club Charities is bringing the Heart Center closer to the much-needed expansion that could include 20-24 additional beds, new operating rooms, and an all-new specialized imaging center.

Century Club Charities last year presented $500,000 in tournament proceeds to FOCH – an amount more than doubled by this year’s $1,102,700 donation. “Our goal was to get to a million dollars, and we were blessed with a great response from the sponsors and players, and good weather,” Johnny Lang, president of Century Club Charities, said of the 2014 tournament.

Profits from PGA Tour events nationwide raise money for the chosen charity of tournament hosts. Both poultry giant Sanderson Farms and Century Club Charities, whose mission is to promote the game of golf for charitable benefit, have designated FOCH as their beneficiary.

Sanderson with the tournament trophy
Sanderson with the tournament trophy

“None of this would have happened without a lot of help from a lot of people,” Sanderson said.

He recalled how Bryant approached him when Mississippi risked losing the longtime tournament. “He called me, and I’m glad he did,” Sanderson said.

“It didn’t take much,” Bryant said of his job to convince Sanderson. “Without Joe Sanderson stepping forward, we would not be here today.”

“We are pleased to have a part in the evolution of the Children’s Heart Center, and are excited to see what the future holds for this hospital,” Sanderson said. “The primary reason this tournament exists is to raise money for Friends of Children’s Hospital, who in turn helps make Mississippi’s only children’s hospital a health-care destination.”

UMMC Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. James Keeton called the gift “a spectacular achievement.

“We’re grateful,” he told dozens gathered for the announcement. “This is pretty special for the children of the state of Mississippi.”

Since the Children’s Heart Center’s creation in 2010, its team has operated on about 2,000 patients. Other procedures, including heart catheterizations and echocardiograms, bring the number treated to more than 5,000 babies and children. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the infrastructure for sustainability. We need adequate rooms, ICU beds, operating rooms, and a pediatric imaging center to support the commitment we’ve made,” Salazar said.

“The contributions of the Sanderson family and the tournament will go a long way. It’s very timely that they are giving us this wonderful gift toward that mission.”

Sara Ray, left, board chair of FOCH, shares in the excitement of the $1.1M gift with Keeton, center, and Sanderson
Sara Ray, left, board chair of FOCH, shares in the excitement of the $1.1M gift with Keeton, center, and Sanderson

Batson and Children’s Heart Center supporters envision a new building to be constructed in the space adjacent to the current children’s hospital building. Among other things, it would house a new lobby and clinical space for the Children’s Heart Center.  A construction timeline and costs are still in the planning stages.

“Friends of Children’s Hospital is so thankful for the support provided by the Sanderson Farms Championship and Century Club Charities,” said Sara Ray, chairman of the Friends of Children’s Hospital board of directors. “The magnitude of the contribution from the 2014 tournament is overwhelming, and it will enable Friends of Children’s Hospital to fund our commitment to the Children’s Heart Center sooner than planned.”

 “Part of the excitement about our affiliation with Friends of Children’s Hospital is that (the Championship) is the largest and only professional sporting event in the state, and we have the only children’s hospital in the state,” Lang said. “We are thrilled with this affiliation.”