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The great need for a children's hospital

July 17, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The quest to build a new seven-story, 128-bed children's hospital at HealthPark Medical Center in Fort Myers to serve the Southwest Florida area is on. Through sponsorships, donations and events, that dream may come true.

If it does, then families of sick children in need of quality medical care will not have to travel 2-1/2 hours for appointments, care and treatment. A fundraising plan helps.

"This is to raise money for the children, our next generation," said Dr. John Thomas, one of two guest speakers at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Charley's Boat House Grill Thursday.

Article Photos

Dr. Jack Thomas speaks about A Seahorse Dream, a nonprofit fundraising art project within the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation in support of building the new Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida. His wife, Joyce (seated closest to him), is also a member of the project's steering committee dedicated to help the cause.

Thomas, along with his wife, Joyce, are members of the steering committee for "A Seahorse Dream," a nonprofit fundraising art project within the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation in support of building the new Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.

According to Thomas, only half of the funds to build a hospital can be provided through grants or the hospital budget.

"The rest of it has to come through philanthropy," he said. "To date, we are right around $50 million, and the total goal is $101 million. We have a ways to go."

Ground is expected to be broken this fall for the Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida with actual construction slated for early January 2014 and completion in 2017.

Thomas stated that, in 2011, the Lee Memorial Health System had roughly 48 beds dedicated to children. Those 48 beds took care of 40,000 patients during that year. Of those 40,000, 70 percent of those families weren't able to fully pay for their children's care.

"The tragic thing is that many times children need to be transported to Tampa or Miami in order to receive highly specialized treatment," he said.

A long drive can wreak havoc on a sick child and cause a poor outcome to his or her health.

A Seahorse Dream is a fundraising arm of the Lee Memorial Health System Foundation that runs from March 2013 to March 2014. The project, which has a goal to raise $100,000, involves securing sponsorship for five-foot-tall seahorse statues painted by local sketch artists, including artist Joni Hermansen from Fort Myers Beach. Sponsorships range from Silver level ($3,500) to Gold level ($5,000) to Platinum (unlimited amount).

Go to for more information on sponsorships and events related to the project.

"Since March, we have come up with more than $75,000 in donations and sponsorship to keep this project going," said Thomas.

The project began during a meeting of the Montage Women's Club, which Joyce is a member of. Her club visited a Lee Memorial hospital, noticed a need and teamed up with Saints & Sinners Men's Club in the endeavor.

"After the tour, we thought about how we could do something to help build this new hospital," she said. The public art project was later born.

A Seahorse Dream involves sponsors selecting a design for their seahorse from artist sketches provided by the program committee. After the public exhibition, the non-reserved seahorse statues will be put up for auction at the final gala dinner.

Thomas made a plea for business owners of the local chamber to team up and contribute to the cause.

"The chambers of commerce throughout the five county area are really going to be critical as far as raising funds to construct this new children's hospital," he said. "For example, 17 businesses from the Punta Gorda chamber got together to sponsor a seahorse. One of the businesses was actually a studio, and the lady who owned it was an artist. They came up with money and designated her as the artist,"

Currently, Thomas Golisano has a challenge pledge of $20 million between May 2012 and May 2014 in efforts to build the children's hospital and will match every contribution to that amount.



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