To see Philip Clementson racing across the State Botanical Garden from one glittering display to another you’d never know he began life with a critical congenital heart defect.
While still in utero, Philip was diagnosed with Dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries, in which the main pulmonary artery and the aorta are switched or transposed in position.
At 5 days old, and after surgeons at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta carefully considered their options, Philip had open heart surgery to move the arteries to their normal positions.
While Philip, now 20 months old, will always have to be aware of his condition, he’ll lead a normal active life.
“The doctor said “if he wants to play football, he can play football,” his mom, Laura Clementson, said as she steered an empty stroller and kept an eye on Philip. “I said, ‘No! I don’t want him to play football.’ ”
Philip and Laura Clementson were among more than 1,100 Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta patients and their families who made a group visit to the UGA State Botanical Garden in December to enjoy Winter WonderLights, s’mores, hot chocolate and the opportunity to be in a group of people like themselves.
The event, one of many that Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta arranges each year, is part of Kids at Heart, a hospital support program that provides opportunities for patients and families with heart or other congenital defects to get together socially and share experiences.
While support group meetings are held regularly at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the social events are held throughout the state and patients are from across the southeast. Previous events have included a trip to the Atlanta Zoo, the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Illuminations in Griffin. The visit to Winter WonderLights in Athens was the first fully open event they’ve held since before the pandemic, said Alison Mueller, a senior program coordinator for Heart Center Support Programs at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
“Despite their diagnoses they can still have fun as a family,” she said.
At the s’mores stations, families were busy roasting marshmallows to eat with their chocolate and graham crackers.
“How do I do this?” Joseph Gantt, 6, from Jefferson, Ga., asked.
“You want it burnt? Just leave it in the fire,” his sister said. “If it catches on fire, blow it out.”
The marshmallow was already on fire. Joseph pulled it from the flames and his sister blew it out. But Joseph immediately stuck the blackened marshmallow back in the fire, where it fell off, along with a piece of the stick.
“I have an extra one,” another of Joseph’s siblings said.
At one point the Chick-fil-A cows danced their way down Candy Cane Lane stopping for high fives, high hooves and hugs. Chick-fil-A provided financial support for the Winter WonderLights outing, along with the Michael P. Fisher Fund. Fisher was an Atlanta attorney who survived a heart defect as a child. After he died unexpectedly in a plane crash, his family and colleagues created the fund in his name to endow the Children’s Michael P. Fisher Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and support programs for children.
Families came to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta event in Athens from all across Georgia, some from other southeastern states. Some stayed overnight at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, which offered them a discounted rate.
“UGA has been very accommodating,” Mueller said. “It’s important for these families to be together with people like themselves.”
The State Botanical Garden is a resource for the state and offers programs across Georgia as well as on the main UGA campus in Athens.
“With support from generous donors and the university over the past few years, we have worked to significantly increased access to our gardens, grounds and programming,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “The event with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is an excellent example for how the garden can enrich lives and help families enjoy memorable experiences. We hope that Winter WonderLights will become an annual tradition for families across the region and help them to feel more connected to nature and to our beautiful botanical garden.”
Writer: Kelly Simmons, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Jenny Cruse-Sanders, email@example.com