Community Gift

Le Bonheur celebrates 58 years with new hospital

By Tom Wilemon

Le Bonheur volunteers march down the parade route for the opening of the new $340 million children’s hospital on Tuesday.  Photo: Lance Murphey

The floats told the story of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital on Tuesday as it celebrated its 58th birthday with the opening celebration for a new $340 million pediatric medical center.

A giant heart with stitches symbolized the giving spirit of the Le Bonheur Club, the ladies sewing club that led the effort to build the old hospital. Another float featured huge hard hats in tribute to the construction workers who built the new one.

After the parade, Meri Armour, the hospital’s chief executive officer, stood on a podium in bright sunshine and compared Le Bonheur to a well-loved child.

“We have loved this hospital unconditionally for nearly 60 years and now with this new building we are going to give it every opportunity,” she said. “It’s a milestone on our journey. We will mark the journey today like proud parents marking the height of their child on a doorway.”

She said the new hospital is both a “gift for our community and a gift from our community.”

The hospital was built with the support of the largest fundraising campaign in the city’s history. More than $100 million of the money to build the hospital came from donations. The 255-bed hospital is estimated to have a $3.7 billion economic impact on the Memphis area over a five-year period.

It is also a new anchor for the Memphis Medical Center on a stretch of Poplar Avenue that is now being revitalized.

Paislee, a therapy dog, jumps up on a table with volunteers Michele Price, from left, Lee Ridenhour, Dalene Wilson and John Turner as parade participants gathered Tuesday morning for the opening ceremony of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.  Photo: Lance Murphey

Gary Shorb, the chief executive officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, introduced videotaped remarks from Gov. Phil Bredesen.

“You took what was just a dream almost 60 years ago and made it into a 12-story, $340 million reality,” the governor said. “In this facility, you will help more children and discover more medical breakthroughs than your founders could have imagined when they began this project back in 1952.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford also spoke.

“My vision for this great city is that we are to be seen around the world as a city of choice,” Wharton said. “Nowhere is that vision made more real than in the many ways we show that we care for our children.”

Ford related a personal story about how physicians there had successfully diagnosed and treated his son, a young man who is now in medical school. Medical experts had initially thought he had a tumor in his jaw and were about to do surgery when a doctor at the hospital diagnosed the problem as abscessed bone.

The people in the audience had their own family stories.

Ann E. Willis, 84, brought her children and grandchildren to the ceremony. She told The Daily News how Dr. Jack Segal did a tonsillectomy on her son at a time when the hospital was segregated.

In later years, Willis would become a member of the board of trustees for the hospital and for its foundation. She laughed as she remembered how her granddaughter, Alexandra Willis, who is now 23, was treated at the hospital when she swallowed a penny as a little girl.

The parade featured dozens of children who have been successfully treated at Le Bonheur, including three grand marshals: Olivia “Livi” Jones, Reese Wagner and Chandler “Chance” Futrell.

Jones was treated for a brain tumor the size of a lemon. Wagner was brought back last winter after he fell into an icy pond and was under water for more than 20 minutes. Last fall, Futrell suffered a gunshot wound to his femoral artery and

underwent 13 surgeries at the hospital to save his leg.

Every year, Le Bonheur treats 130,000 children from across the country. It has one of the nation’s busiest pediatric emergency departments and hosts one of the largest pediatric surgical brain tumor programs.

Le Bonheur will begin moving patients from the old hospital into the new hospital in September.