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There’s nothing much scarier than knowing your child has a problem with his heart. Fortunately, families in that situation don’t have to travel far to receive top-notch treatment through Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida’s pediatric cardiology program.

“We are so grateful to Dr. Edwards for saving our son; it’s beyond explanation,” said Kent Corey, whose son, Jacob, is a healthy 9-year-old thanks to a quick, lifesaving diagnosis by former Lee Memorial Health System pediatric cardiologist Dr. Sam Edwards. As an infant, Jacob had a rare condition in which his blood failed to circulate normally. “Nobody else saw it. If he hadn’t seen my son, that would have been it. He would have been done.”

Now, the pediatric cardiology program is targeted to receive an infusion of new equipment, when donors exhibit their usual generosity at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest’s Grand Tasting and Auction Saturday, Feb. 22. Each year, hospital officials, at the request of SWFL Children’s Charities Inc., the organization that hosts the fundraiser, suggest wish lists of equipment that would enhance existing pediatric services. A fund-a-need Lifesaving Lot during the Grand Auction at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club raises money to fund this extra special wish list.

Edwards recently retired and was succeeded by Dr. Eric Eason who is building on his predecessor’s foundation. Eason and health system officials intend to grow the department, expanding to satellite locations north and south of Fort Myers, hiring a second pediatric cardiologist within the year and adding additional services that are not currently available in this area. To that end, Eason needs to purchase three new pieces of lifesaving equipment:

  • A transesophageal echocardiography transducer. This special device will allow Eason to perform more specific echocardiograms (moving pictures of the heart) when a standard echocardiogram fails to produce clear images. The device is inserted into a patient’s throat, letting him take images from the inside.
  • A micro version of the echocardiography transducer. A smaller version of the device will allow Eason to examine even premature babies.”These additional ECG machines will allow us to offer more services that are specialized to kids,” Eason said. Right now, children needing the internal echocardiograms would have to travel to Tampa or Miami to get the service.
  • A portable ultrasound system that will allow Eason to travel to satellite offices and see children closer to home, “This will allow us to take our services closer to the kids, thus alleviating barriers to care such as transportation.”

The hospital system also plans to partner with Lee County schools to screen student athletes for heart abnormalities and identify those who may be at risk of a severe cardiac event. Some of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest money may help pay for additional echocardiogram machines that will allow school nurses to run the tests and send the results to Eason for interpretation. “It’s a work in progress and very exciting for the high school athletes of Southwest Florida,” said Kathy Bridge-Liles, chief administrative officer with Lee Memorial Health System.

“As the pediatric population continues to grow in our region, we are serving more and more children with congenital heart disease and other cardiac anomalies. Building the cardiology program and expanding our scope of services will help keep children close to home for their cardiac services and care,” Bridge-Liles said.

Golisano Children’s Hospital is the primary beneficiary of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. Trustees have pledged $10 million toward its construction, along with the equipment to support the hospital’s immediate needs. Past auctions have raised money for 13 GE Healthcare Giraffe OmniBeds ($45,000 each). The infant beds are designed to replicate the womb environment as technologically possible.

Corey is happy to see the focus on cardiology. Though his son has received a lot of care here, he initially had to be airlifted to Tampa for specialized surgery. The more that can be provided locally, Corey said, the better, “I would really like to see that program grow.”

Eason is impressed by the community’s involvement, “As a new resident to Lee County, I find the community support for Lee Memorial and Golisano Children’s Hospital is remarkable. Here, I get the feeling that the community is hand-in-hand with the doctors and nurses in effecting positive change on how we deliver care. As a physician, it excites me to do my job every day knowing there’s such emphatic support at different levels within Lee County.”

The two-day event begins with dinners featuring select vintners and local chefs in private homes from Fort Myers to Naples Friday, Feb. 21. It concludes with a Grand Tasting and Auction the following day, Saturday, Feb. 22, at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club.

The festival, organized by SWFL Children’s Charities Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides funding to local children’s causes, has raised more than $8.9 million over the last five years, making it the most successful fundraising event in Lee County. The primary beneficiary is Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, which is scheduled to open in 2016 at HealthPark Medical Center in south Fort Myers. The state-of-the-art family-centered children’s hospital will provide new and expanded pediatric medical services and subspecialty services to children from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.

The wine fest also helps support the Edison State College Pediatric Nursing Program and Florida Gulf Coast University’s music therapy program at the Bower School of Music.

Title sponsor of the 2014 event is SKANSKA GATES. Additional sponsors include FineMark National Bank & Trust, LTC Global, BB&T Capital Markets, Sam Galloway Ford Lincoln, Private Client Insurance Services, Home-Tech and Investors’ Security Trust Company. In-kind sponsors are Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club, Palm Printing/Printers Ink, Angelina’s Ristorante, Jason’s Deli and Norman Love Confections.

For Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest tickets, sponsorships or additional information, contact SWFL Children’s Charities Inc. at 239-513-7990, email or visit