Betsy Smith, RN, BSN Effingham health system

story by susan lee   photos by tonya chester perry

Whether you call them “angels in scrubs” or “angels in comfortable shoes,” most of us recognize that nurses are special people who dedicate their lives to patient care. In fact, in 2016 the American public again ranked nurses as the professionals they most trust, for the 15th consecutive year.

Betsy Smith, RN, BSN, is Chief Nursing Officer for the Effingham Health System, with clinical oversight of more than 150 staff members throughout the hospital and physician practices. Reporting directly to Interim Chief Executive Officer Fran Baker-Witt, Betsy leads and manages the operations of all clinical areas, patient care units and support departments.

After working several years at Memorial University Medical Center and the Georgia Institute for Plastic Surgery, Betsy joined the staff at Effingham Hospital 8 years ago. She quickly learned all aspects of the hospital to include the emergency room, medical/surgical area and operating room. Six months later, she was appointed Chief Nursing Officer.

Betsy says she is proud of how the Effingham Health System has grown and evolved. Built in 1969, the hospital has grown from a rural hospital serving generations of local residents to a state-of-the art critical access hospital.

“This is a phenomenal health care system,” she says. “We’re fortunate to have a great staff that works extremely well together as a team, especially through periods of transition and growth.” Most recently, Effingham Health System became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, part of a long-range plan to facilitate growth and expand service to surrounding communities.

“We’re making great strides, equipped with the latest technology, adding new services and growing in all outpatient services,” says Betsy. “And now that we’re a nonprofit corporation, we can continue to expand our services and build relationships with even more provider groups.” She also cited the growth in the hospital’s emergency room, which has gone from caring for 900 patients in a month to 1,500 in just the past three years.

A 1996 graduate of Georgia Southern University’s school of nursing, Betsy chose the field because, like many, she felt a calling. “I firmly believe our touch is from Him,” she says. “I felt called by God to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Betsy adds that it’s her faith that helps her get through some of the toughest moments, such as losing a patient or when a baby is brought into the E.R. “It can be so hard, but you just have to hold it together,” she says. “Then when it’s all over you pray a lot and do whatever you can to decompress. It’s normal to feel compassion or remorse.”

Fortunately, she has a wonderful support system at home, and tries hard to maximize the time she has with her husband, Ben, and daughters Maddie, 17, Taylor, 15 and Emmie, 14. “When you decide to work in healthcare, you know it’s going to be demanding and there will be long hours,” she says. “But my family is understanding and I do my best to get to as many of their activities as possible.”

For anyone considering entering the nursing field, Betsy advises them to make sure they have a passion for it. And even though the role of a nurse has completely changed since she started, she says it’s still all about helping people, most of whom she vividly remembers. “They made me the nurse I am today,” says Betsy.

A Daughters Vision Becomes A Mother’s Legacy

The Beginning


In 1991, a family restaurant was “born” in Springfield, Georgia. This restaurant would soon become a household name for many who reside in Effingham County….Ms. Jeans.  Just the simple sound of “her” name will make your mouth water.

The restaurant was owned by Jean Waters, lovingly called Ms. Jean by everyone that knew her.

Ms. Jean’s husband, Jesse Waters, suffered a heart attack and could no longer work in his normal capacity.  This tragedy left the family in a dilemma.  Ms. Jean knew that in order to take care of her daughter and continue to maintain their family household, she would have to go to work.  She had always loved to cook and she had plenty of experience taking care of foster children. Could she make a living for her family doing one of those things?

Childcare? No. Cooking? Now there’s a good thought.

Thankfully for Effingham County, Ms. Jean chose cooking. Ms. Jeans Restaurant was founded on love and the desire of one lady to be able to continue to provide for her family.

Jean and Jesse Waters had five children – Olivia, Walt, Marnie, Andrea and Kellis. All five of the kids worked in the restaurant.  Marnie, who had been injured in an accident one week before her senior year of high school, was a quadriplegic. She ran a specialized pre-programmed cash register while the other children cooked, waited tables and helped keep the company books.

In 1999, Ms. Jean closed the doors to the restaurant, much to the dismay of her customers. She went to work as the deli manager in a local Winn Dixie until they closed. She then went to work for a manufacturing company, staying there until her retirement in 2007.

Retirement allowed Ms. Jean many things, but the most important thing it allowed her was the opportunity to spend more time taking care of her daughter.  Over the next two years, Ms. Jean was not only her caregiver, she was also Marnie’s traveling companion. These two were able to take several trips together…some to visit Andrea, who lived in Destin, Florida at the time. Andrea and her Mom were able to take Marnie to the beach, one of the things she truly enjoyed. Marnie passed away in 2009.


The Re-opening 


Past customers of Ms. Jeans would often stop her during the years to reminisce about the restaurant. She wanted to reopen the restaurant, but she knew that it wasn’t possible because taking care of Marnie came first.

Ms. Jean longed for the day Andrea would move back home. She wanted all of her children to be close to her.

Andrea Waters Allsbrook had spent 20 years working in the hospitality industry. She started out with the Hilton in Savannah as a front desk clerk and within 11 years, in spite of not having a college education, Andrea was running her own hotel. Her career had taken her to Destin, Florida where she would make her home for the next 15 years.  During this time, she worked with several high end luxury hotel brands in the beautiful Florida vacation town. Her career path gave her a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge which prepared her for the task at hand today.

Andrea had some struggles in life…being away from family all those years wasn’t easy.  But, she had made a great name for herself and things were going very well for her in Florida. But, there was something missing though. Andrea accepted the Lord back into her heart.  Her faith had always played a major role in her life…and that part had begun to silently sneak away.

She said, “Mom had been diagnosed with a rare cancer and had no chance of remission or a cure.  In September 2012, the Lord put it on my heart to move back home and re-open Ms. Jeans, so I took off my corporate hat and began to make plans.  It is life experiences that sometimes makes you realize what is really important in life, and for me, at that time,  in my life it was my family.”

This is was not an easy decision. Those years of hard work had paid off and Andrea knew she would have to give up a lot.

Through prayer, guidance and leadership from the Lord, Andrea put her plan into motion…moving back home to re-open Ms. Jean’s Restaurant. So she sold her home, gave up a nice corporate income and traded her flashy BMW and was Effingham County bound.

“At that time in my life, the one thing that was most important to me was to make sure my Mom went out on top of the world,” Andrea states, “We all knew that with Mom’s diagnosis, we had limited time left with her.  We wanted to make sure the time we had left was the best it could be. I wanted her life to have purpose.”

“Mom was so happy when I called her and told her I was coming home.  And, even happier when I later told her about my plans to re-open Ms. Jeans,” shares Andrea, “I asked her to come back into business with me as co-owner”

Ms. Jean had the knowledge of the restaurant side and Andrea had the knowledge for the business side.  These two would make an unbeatable team.

And, they did!

Andrea returned home on February 1, 2013, but the work began long before then.  Andrea was able to handle a lot of the preliminary work over the phone and on-line before her move, enabling Ms. Jeans Restaurant to open its doors on March 13, 2013.

Andrea laughingly recalls, “I remember us being so excited and moving so hard to get the restaurant open, and all of a sudden Mom asks one day, ‘What are you going to name the new restaurant.’ Like there was ever a question.”

When the sign went up, “Ms. Jean’s Restaurant Coming Soon,” the calls started pouring in.  Andrea said people were calling her Mom wanting to know if this was the same Ms. Jean’s from Springfield.

Ms. Jean truly enjoyed making people happy with her food, and she certainly accomplished that.  Andrea, Walt and Olivia knew that the re-opening of Ms. Jean’s Restaurant was a way for them to honor their Mom while she was still with them, and one day continue it in her memory.

There was a sense of urgency opening the first location on Columbia Ave., all wanting to make sure Ms. Jean would be able to be a part of it for as long as she could.

Ms. Jean never let her illness show, she always had a smile.  Andrea remembers how good it felt to see her Mom back in the community, happy and working in the restaurant. Ms. Jean went table to table, chatting and watching people enjoy her food.

Within a few short months, the first 80 seat restaurant was too small.  A new location had to be found.


Ms. Jeans Today


They soon found a bigger location and started working on the build out to have it ready to expand as quickly as possible. Once again, this family came together and did the impossible…that sense of urgency Ms. Jean had was inherited by her kids.

Andrea’s brother Walt, who lives in Columbia, SC, came home every weekend and took vacation time  to help with the build out. They worked serving lunch 6 days a week at the original location.  They would leave there and work evenings and weekends at the new location, sometimes until 1:00 in the morning, from October to December 2013.

The doors of the new, 140 seat restaurant opened on December 13, 2013 which is where they are located today, on Lisa Street behind the Krystal Restaurant.

They started out with 2,000 square feet and expanded to 4,000 with the new location. Less than a year later, they expanded again. Opening a Marketplace was in Andrea’s original business plan.  The neighboring space became available, so an additional 2000 square feet  was acquired and The Marketplace opened in November, 2014.

Ms. Jean saw the opening of all three.  That sense of urgency to make things happened allowed her the opportunity to watch her children come together and help this business grow.

Andrea said, “Mom cooked desserts till the day she went in the hospital for the last time, before going home to be with the Lord.”

Jean Waters passed away on March 18, 2015.

It was important to see her go out on top of the world, and she did.

Working side by side with their mother is an experience that Olivia, Walt and Andrea will never forget.  The bonds that were formed through this time as family will keep them close forever.

Andrea recalls being in the kitchen with her Mom since she was a little girl.  “One summer, Mom broke her leg.  She would sit on a stool in the kitchen with her leg propped up telling me what to do.  She didn’t measure anything unless she was baking and that is how she taught us to cook,” Andrea shares.

After Andrea moved away, she would often call her Mom and ask questions about how to prepare something and, of course, Mom helped her through those challenges.  In a tender moment, she recalls, “Mom always knew what to tell me.  I miss being able to call her.”

Ms. Jean’s Restaurant is more than just great fried chicken (a secret family recipe), which has won multiple local awards.  It is about serving others and being a service to the community. It is a place where anyone can get a home cooked meal every day. And, they still cook the same recipes Ms. Jean used herself.

The staff of Ms. Jeans Restaurant is another “Specialty” part of this business.  They take great pride in what they do, from the cooks to the servers to the dish washers.  Andrea adds, “God has blessed us with great people. They are wonderful employees.”

Ms. Jeans Restaurant is open six days a week for lunch from 11:00 am-2:30 pm.   They are also now open on Friday nights from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pmwhere they serve a seafood and southern menu.

Ms. Jeans also offers “To Go” meals for families who want to take their food home.  They also offer reservations for parties of 12  to 18  people for the Red Room, except on Sunday.

Ms. Jeans is currently expanding again with the addition of a sweet shop inside the Marketplace. Olivia is preparing custom cakes, cookies, candies and pies made in house for purchase.   Or, she will be happy to take your custom order.

Ms. Jean had always talked about what she called “A Party House.”  She wanted a place to host events that she could cater.  Unfortunately, she never got to see this come to fruition. But, there’s good news on the way.  Be on the lookout soon for the future plans of The Waters Estate; Ms. Jeans “Party House.”

It looks like this family is making sure Ms. Jean’s legacy lives on forever.

John David “JD” Fulcher: You’re Not Strong Unless You’re JD Strong

story by katrice williams   photos by tonya chester perry

“Sometimes real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting big battles.” ~ Anonymous

The late Christopher Reeves said that “a hero is an extraordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” It is obvious that those heroes come in all sizes. John David Fulcher, JD, is a bright-eyed 10-year-old boy with a boatload of courage that easily complements his warm, witty and straightforward personality. JD has lived in Effingham all of his life, along with his dad Shane, mom Melodie, big sister Anna and big brother Wesley.

JD was diagnosed with B-Cell All, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia last June. It is the most common type of cancer in children; it usually progresses rapidly. It happens when the bone marrow and blood contain too many immature white blood cells, or b-cells (lymphoblasts).

Melodie still counts her blessings, stating, “This is a cancer with a fairly good prognosis.”

Prior to his diagnosis, JD appeared to have stomach virus symptoms. He would also run an occasional low fever. Doctors felt this all to be very common viral symptoms, especially in a healthy child with no known medical problems. JD began to experience leg cramps that became increasingly painful over time. Various tests were done by medical professionals, yet no problems were found. Shane and Melodie tried to do all they could to ease the cramps at home, whether keeping JD plenty of potassium rich foods like bananas or even making sure that he took nice, warm baths for their therapeutic nature. After seeing that their little athlete even occasionally struggled to move around during some of his baseball games, their concern heightened.      .

Melodie mentions, “He started really struggling through ball games. It had gotten to the point where he couldn’t put any weight on his legs.” Thereafter, JD was hospitalized for three days, while his medical staff tried urgently to figure out what was going on.

“They knew his white blood count was fighting something, but they couldn’t find anything in the blood work to indicate it,” Melodie notes.

Additional tests were run, specifically those tracking white blood cells; consequently, a large amount of lymphoblastic b-cells were found.

Since his diagnosis, JD has withstood several procedures and is currently on chemotherapy treatment. The objective of the chemotherapy is to destroy all leukemic cells and to prevent the bone marrow from making other ones. During his current phase of treatment, JD receives a variety of about eight different chemotherapy drugs at any given time. The oncologist keeps a check on his cell count and spinal fluid regularly. Melodie is very thankful that JD’s body has been “handling treatments well.”

Interestingly enough, JD just recently lost his hair, which didn’t get the trooper down much, especially since he had been asking his parents for years for a shaved head. He is looking forward to getting his bald head painted by the well-known and talented local artist Morgan Webb, who has a huge heart for children battling cancer; she does tons of beautiful artwork to benefit the cause.

All in all, JD is just a fun-loving, precious kid. He does not leave his house much, due to a low immune system. He does miss getting out. Whether playing baseball, having fun with his pets outside, riding his dune buggy and four-wheeler or fishing, JD has always been an active guy. He still makes the most of his time indoors and really “likes family time.”

For some time now, JD has been receiving Homebound Instruction a few hours each week from his teacher Ms. Karen Seckinger, who diligently works with him “to help keep him from falling so far behind” academically.

“I like science; it’s my favorite, but my specialty is math. I want to be an RC mechanic,” JD affirms. He would like to do work with an elaborate company like Traxxas, a radio control model manufacturer. JD is intrigued that Traxxas remote control cars are the “fastest in the world,” some being able to reach 60 miles per hour.

Further, JD would love to attend his parents’ alma mater, Georgia Southern University (GSU). Shane is an Eagle at heart; it is obvious that Melodie is as well when seeing all of her GSU memorabilia.

While pointing out his mom’s numerous collectibles, JD jokes, “If you can’t tell, my mama went there too.” JD is also fond of the University of Georgia (UGA)—those Dawgs. He recalls a very generous deed done by the Uga Breeder.

JD states, “About a month ago, the person who breeds the Ugas gave me a picture of an Uga with a stand which said: To my friend JD, from Uga #10.” In fact, JD was visited by the entire UGA Hockey Team while at the clinic receiving treatment. They actually visited all the kids there.

Additionally, JD is very proud of a special Certificate of Courage given to him by the U.S. Army.

The family is incredibly thankful for the abundance of compassion and support shown to JD by various warm-hearted individuals.

Shane later comments, “A lot of special people have come to visit him. He’s gotten a lot of neat little gifts.”

Some renowned individuals include Statesboro-bred country singing sensation Erin Alvy. Even Effingham’s very own professional baseball icon Josh Reddick surprised him with a visit. JD, who had made one of Effingham’s Little League All-Star Teams prior to his diagnosis, was thrilled by the visit and still gets excited just talking about it. Speaking of baseball, JD’s all-star baseball team took a picture for him flexing their muscles after his diagnosis, coining the slogan “JD Strong” for him.

JD’s family is whole-heartedly appreciative for all the care and attention shown by his medical team.

“We’ve been just amazed by how the doctors, nurses, childcare specialists and the social workers just kind of walk this journey with you,” Melodie remarks.

JD does not take any of that for granted. He is a grateful little boy and values all the love shown to him.

JD says that one of his biggest inspirations is his dad. Shane is Superman to him right now. He completely shares in his son’s care, not out of sheer duty or obligation, but because he can see it no other way. He is looking forward to his son’s full recovery.

In his own words of encouragement to other children fighting such battles, JD asserts, “Stay strong…stay JD strong.” Sometimes really big courage can come in small packages.

Sonny Underwood: EHS’s Emergency Room Saves Lives

story by susan lee   photos by shelia scott

For most people in Effingham, Hurricane Matthew brought many challenges. Days without power or phone service. Downed trees. Damaged homes and property. Weeks and even months of repairs and recovery.

But for one Rincon family, the storm happened at the worst possible time that Friday in October. They were in the midst of a frightening struggle for life.

It all began a week earlier when Sonny and Mona Underwood were at the home of their daughter and son-in-law, Kate and Daniel Busbee. The couple had taken their 13-month-old grandson, Asa, for a walk. They were almost back at the house when Sonny was suddenly doubled over, trying to catch his breath. “We all tried to get him to the doctor but he insisted he was fine,” said Mona. “He had a checkup scheduled already for the next Friday, on October 7, so we let it go because he seemed okay.”

On Thursday, the day before his appointment, I reminded Sonny about his checkup,” said Mona. “He said, ‘Oh, they won’t be open tomorrow’.” The area was already preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. Daniel had already gone to stay with family in Warner Robins with the baby, and Kate, an emergency management specialist with CEMA, was at the organization’s emergency operations center.

So Mona called Dr. Joseph Ratchford’s office and they said they were staying open until noon. “It would have been so easy for them to just shut their doors and close like so many other businesses were doing,” she said. “But they didn’t. They wanted to stay open as long as possible so they could provide medical care for the community. They’re just unbelievable over there. And I just really wanted Sonny to be checked because I still felt that something was wrong.”

“When I got there, I went in and told them it hurts whenever I pick something up,” said Sonny. The doctor promptly ordered an EKG and when he saw the results, immediately called the cardiologist in Savannah. Sonny was then sent next door to Effingham Hospital.

Meanwhile, Mona was at home bringing in patio items and getting their house prepared for the hurricane. “Sonny called me and said he was at the hospital getting tests done,” said Mona. “So I changed clothes and went up to the hospital. That’s when I found out they were going to keep him overnight for monitoring.” Mona called Daniel in Warner Robins and the two decided to wait and not tell Kate until they knew more.

“And at the time, we still really weren’t that concerned,” said Mona. “He still wasn’t experiencing any symptoms other than his chest hurting whenever he picked something up.”

Doctors then ran a blood gas test and discovered that Sonny was experiencing a slight cardiac event. In the morning, they would transfer him to Savannah or Augusta. But as the hurricane moved up the coast and closer to Georgia, the plan changed. Savannah was no longer an option and Sonny would be taken by ambulance to Augusta in the morning.

Mona then headed to the house to pack some bags for them to go to Augusta and then ride out the storm alone at home. Later that night, Kate called to tell her to “hunker down” because tornadoes had been spotted in Rincon. At that point, Mona filled her in on Sonny’s condition and the plans for the next morning.

Then they all rode out the storm.

Mona returned to Effingham Hospital early the next morning. “They said he had done fine all night,” said Mona. “They had spoken to the cardiologist in Savannah and were now thinking he might have just had exercise induced angina. But soon after 12:30pm, Sonny suffered a massice heart attacle. He was taken back to the emergency room. Mona was not allowed to go back with him, so while she waited she called Daniel. “We decided not to let Kate know just yet,” said Daniel. “I got to work getting in touch with friends who could go to the hospital. It wasn’t easy because cell phone towers were still out and not everybody had service. But we just needed someone to be there with Mona because she was obviously very upset.”

Family friend Cheryl Schmidt made it to the hospital first. Mona and Sonny’s best friends, Glenn and Susan Womack, arrived soon after. All three happen to be medical professionals: Cheryl is a registered nurse, Glenn is a nurse anesthesiologist and Susan is a wound control specialist.

“It was wonderful to have what felt like my own personal nurses there for support and help talk to the doctors and nurses at the hospital,” said Mona. “At one point, Glenn asked if he could see Sonny and talk to him one-on-one to get a feel for how how’s doing. After he was done, he told us Sonny’s condition was really serious.”

It turned out Glenn was right. After the doctors did an EKG, they discovered that Sonny was having another heart attack and told Mona that they needed to fly him out to Augusta immediately.

“We knew then it was time to contact Kate at the emergency operations center and let her know what was going on,” said Daniel. “She’s had maybe four hours of sleep in the past 72 hours. I first called her boss, CEMA Director Dennis Jones and filled him in. Then he and I made arrangements for a police officer to drive her from their location on Chatham Parkway to meet her mom at Effingham Hospital.”

At CEMA, Dennis called Kate outside and told her that Daniel needed to talk to her. “I could just tell something was going on,” said Kate. “When I got on the phone, Daniel told me my dad was having a massive heart attack and that a police car would be driving me from CEMA to Effingham Hospital, where I would get in the car with Glenn and my mom to drive to Augusta. Which is exactly what I needed to hear, because I was exhausted at that point and it helped that he just walked me through the steps of what to do.”

Dennis then told Kate to go. “He didn’t want me to go back into the operations center because he didn’t want me to get distracted by any of the activity in there,” she said. “I had my phone, but I didn’t have my purse or keys. He said they would get everything to me. Just go.”

Kate then got in the police car, driven by a “wonderful officer” from the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police. “It was the eeriest experience of my life,” she said. “There was nobody on the roads. It was just desolate. There were tree branches and limbs everywhere.”

Mona was waiting for her at Effingham Hospital and, thanks to the support of their friends, they made it safely to Augusta University Medical Center. Their friends Terry and Suzanne Proctor were already there; they had been at the hospital when Sonny’s helicopter landed. Becky Long and Susan Womack arrived from Effingham shortly after they did. And Becky’s husband, Freddy Long, stayed back to retrieve Kate’s purse and keys and drove up late that evening.

In Augusta, doctors told them that they had been able to stint the artery causing the heart attack but they had discovered the major artery in his heart was 99 percent blocked. On Monday, doctors cleared that artery as well and put in two stints.

And, in the end, Kate said all was right. “Daniel had made it to Augusta and we were all together and we got to watch football in the hospital with my dad,” she said.

“And Georgia beat South Carolina,” added Daniel. Yes, all was good.

Sonny was released from the hospital that Tuesday and recently finished his physical therapy. And even though Mona initially thought he should take it easy, the doctors told him to stay active. He’s back at work at his plumbing business, but also finds plenty of time with his grandson and buddy Asa.

“I’m feeling good, but I do get tired more easily and I’m working my way up to walking around the block,” said Sonny. “I’m just very appreciative and thankful for the support from my family, friends and everyone in the community.”

For her part, Mona is just happy to have her husband home. “I remember when he was at Effingham Hospital and they were saying they had to get him out of there and the helicopter was on the way,” she said. “I was thinking that I was never going to see my husband again.”

That day, Oct. 8th, was the couple’s 39th wedding anniversary.

Mona adds, “We could not be more grateful for the ER Physicians and staff at Effingham Hospital. They are amazing. They did everything they needed to do. If there had not been an Effingham Hospital, my husband would not be alive today. They made all the right decisions. They stabilized him and had him airlifted to Augusta. They saved his life.”

Opening This Spring: The Cancer Care Center at Effingham Hospital

Effingham Health System, in collaboration with Summit Cancer Care, is proud to announce the opening this spring of The Cancer Care Center at Effingham Hospital. The new center is part of the health system’s carefully planned growth and ongoing commitment to deliver exceptional care.

It’s yet another example of how the Effingham Health System is forging its own path in the value-based paradigm which, according to CEO Fran Baker-Witt, gives patients a choice of where they can receive health care options. “We are very excited to offer cancer treatment that is convenient for patients and family members in our area,” she said. “The Effingham community has been asking for cancer care and we are hoping to be the provider of choice as we deliver specialty quality care to better meet the needs of the community and soon open the doors to this beautiful state-of-the-art facility.”

The Cancer Care Center will provide an array of treatment options through an experienced team of physicians and nurses dedicated to helping patients with a variety of quality services. The physicians specialize in medical oncology and hematology, meaning they are expertly trained in the treatment of cancer using chemotherapy drugs. They will also treat blood cancers such as leukemia or other blood disorders such as anemia, hemophilia or thrombocytopenia.

Educated and trained at some of the nation’s leading medical universities, the physicians at The Cancer Care Center will bring together backgrounds in research at top research institutions, and decades of private practice experience. These doctors will base their treatment recommendations on years of experience and research, as well as the latest information from ongoing clinical trials.

Betsy Smith, RN, BSN, Chief Nursing Officer for the Effingham Health System, is equally excited about The Cancer Care Center. “Our patients will no longer need to leave the county to receive the same high level of expertise, and that’s a great value our growing health system is now able to offer,” she said.

For more information on The Cancer Care Center, stay tuned to the Effingham Health System’s Facebook page or call 754-6451.

Memorial Health University Physicians – Rincon

In a small town like Rincon, neighbors help neighbors. It’s what we do. At Memorial Health University Physicians – Rincon, your neighbors just happen to be medical professionals who love what they do.

Wesley Ensley, M.D., and Angela Chumley, a family nurse practitioner, care for adults and children in a comfortable, convenient office off Highway 21. They treat illnesses and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and provide annual and sports physicals, well-child check-ups, medication management and much more.

Ensley, a native of Griffin, Georgia, moved to the area in 2013 to practice family medicine. He admits the people and the locale were very attractive.

“Most everyone I meet is very friendly,” he says. “And I love the coastal climate.”

Chumley, who grew up in nearby Port Wentworth, also calls Effingham County home. “I like the small-town atmosphere where neighbors help neighbors and everybody knows each other by name,” she says.

Effingham County is the perfect place for Ensley and Chumley to do what they love.

“I treat my patients like they are members of my own family,” Ensley says. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

“My philosophy is to care for the whole patient,” says Chumley, who became a nurse practitioner 12 years ago after working as a registered nurse for nearly two decades.

“I get to know them as individuals, not just their medical problems,” she adds. “I want to know about their lives and their families. In fact, most of my patients are also my friends.

“I’m big on educating my patients about their condition and explaining why we do the things we’re doing. That usually helps put them at ease so they are more likely to follow their treatment plan or take their medication.”

Ensley says he loves family medicine because of the variety. Patients of all ages come to him for many different healthcare concerns.

Becoming a doctor grew out his love for science. “Medicine brings so many types of science together,” he says. “My stepfather was an orthopedic surgeon and he loved what he did.”

Most of all, Ensley and Chumley want to help their patients get and stay healthy.

“My best advice is this: keep your weight down, stay active and don’t smoke or do drugs,” Ensley says.

Chumley agrees and offers her own words of wisdom. “Stay active and stay positive,” she says. “Remove the negative things from your life. Live it to the fullest and be happy.”

Ensley and Chumley are now accepting new patients. Call 912-826-8800 for an appointment.

Edel Caregiver Institute: Helping caregivers so they can better help their loved ones

Story by CINDY


Hospice Savannah is a program for the terminally ill which includes services for care and support of patients at home, in a nursing home or assisted living facility or in Hospice House. Usually abstaining from extraordinary measures to lengthen life, they focus on pain and symptom control and emotional support for the loved ones.

Hospice Savannah concentrates on the patient and their loved ones; The Edel Caregiver Institute concentrates on the caregiver.

Caring for a loved one with any type of illness or disorder is not planned and many times the caregiver is at a loss for what they need to do. Caregivers can be friends, relatives, in-laws, spouses – anyone who provides assistance to another, in whatever capacity and whatever their relationship, with no financial benefits. The Edel Caregiver Institute offers support for non-paid, non-professional family caregivers. Again, its primary focus is the caregiver, not the care recipient. The care recipient is rarely hospice patient. It is usually someone who has been diagnosed with a long-term chronic illness such as Congestive Heart Failure, Dementia, Pulmonary Disease, etc.

The Edel Caregiver Institute opened its doors a year ago, with a vision of helping families. In fact, the Institute has helped over 300 families to date.  With a-state-of-the -art facility nestled off Chatham Parkway, they offer an array of classes and programs for caregivers.  Within their skills lab, they provide hands-on training with medical equipment from oxygen tanks to Hoyer lifts.  The skills lab is able to assist 12-15 people per class and can be disease- specific. Basic nursing skills are also taught to caregivers.

Taking care of a loved one stricken with disease or a disorder, such as Autism, can take an emotional and physical toll on the one providing the care. The Edel Caregiver Institute delivers wellness for the caregiver, including nutrition education and exercise. It also offers help with navigating the medical world through the assistance of eight retired physicians on hand who are available to go with patients and caregivers to doctor appointments to communicate information. Dementia coaches are also available. They are placed in the homes to help with problem solving and offer hands on help.

The Edel Caregiver Institute is a not for profit organization that relies on funding from the United Way, donations and fundraisers. All services offered by Edel are free of charge. Please see the website for complete information regarding all the classes and support offered.

Edel Caregiver Institute

6000 Business Center Drive (off Chatham Parkway)

Savannah, GA 31405

EdelCaregiverInstitute.org     912-629-1331


Counties and communities served:

• Bryan: Ellabell, Pembroke, Richmond Hill, Midway

• Chatham: Savannah, Tybee, Pooler, Bloomingdale,

Thunderbolt, Garden City, Port Wentworth

• Effingham: Rincon, Guyton, Clyo, Springfield

• Liberty: Hinesville and surrounding communities

• Long: Ludowici and surrounding communities


The Edel Caregiver Institute can also provide:

• Reduced rates for daytime respite at local assisted living facilities.

• Discounted rates on local agency sitter services.

• Resource information and referrals to community services. By appointment.

• Caregiving 101 skills follow-up support.

• Individual consultations for disease specific education with fourth year medical

residents. By appointment.

• Social work support. By appointment.

• In-home respite care scholarships for qualified individuals.*

(*Participating caregivers who wish to apply for a respite scholarship must have had a personal consultation with the manager of the Institute. A participating caregiver is one who has completed a questionnaire, attends classes, and has an established relationship with the Edel Caregiver Institute.  Respite scholarships are offered on a limited basis for a pre-determined amount based on availability).

Effingham Family Medicine Where Quality Care Counts

story by katrice williams     photos by tonya chester perry

Effingham Family Medicine has been a staple in Guyton for some time now. Dr. Claude Sanks, a Savannah native, practices at the medical center. Moreover, he has been the Chief of Staff at Effingham Health Systems since 2015. Therefore, he puts a lot of time in at the hospital. Earning a variety of accolades throughout his tenure as a medical professional, Dr. Sanks specializes in internal medicine with a focus on adult preventative care. One of his primary philosophies is that patients are empowered to play an active role in their healthcare.

“I think that it’s important that patients be motivated to have some control over their medical care. I like for them to be involved,” he remarks. Dr. Sanks gives his patients a list of options to explore—those that will most coincide with their personal goals.

Dr. Sanks’ mission is to incorporate a substantial degree of patient awareness. He states, “We focus on patient education.”

The doctor spends a lot of time helping to manage patients with “chronic medical issues.”  Some chronic conditions may include, but are certainly not limited to: arthritis, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and a host of others.

Dr. Sanks states, “We want to keep patients aware, so that they can manage their own medical conditions.” After all, he understands that patients will not always have a medical professional to rely on; therefore, he encourages them to embrace that level of autonomy in their lives.

Preventative care, or “the care that patients receive to prevent illnesses or diseases,” is of dire importance. Obviously, no one has to be treated for what they do not have. Taking a comprehensive approach to patient healthcare using screenings, immunizations and other beneficial tests or procedures, Dr. Sanks diligently strives to incorporate a standard of prevention at Effingham Family Medicine.

Above all, the doctor wants to make sure that each patient feels that their concerns are thoroughly addressed and that they receive a high level of service at each visit…service that consistently surpasses mediocrity. Dr. Sanks takes pride in establishing an excellent professional relationship with his patients. He understands the value in having patients that trust him with their healthcare needs, and he does not take that for granted.

Regarding the outlook of the entire team at Effingham Family Medicine, Dr. Sanks comments, “We have a good rapport with our patients.”

Dr. Sanks also finds it advantageous to utilize a wide scope of treatment options for his patients. He knows that when such a variety of feasible options are available and used, there is a greater chance that a favorable result will be yielded. He does not take the many advancements made in medical technology lightly, as he wants to insure that each patient is afforded the best opportunities with the highest quality of resources to be used for their care.

Dr. Claude Sanks wants each of his patients to receive truly quality medical care. He, along with the team at Effingham Family Medicine, takes great pride in making sure that their patients see that as a reality.

Maddox Cole: Making Him Mobile

story by cindy burbage     photos by tonya chester perry

Much like a picture, a smile is worth a thousand words. It reveals your perception of your feelings, your mood and your current situation. A smile can brighten the darkest days, but also restore lost hope of a depleted day.  Meet 8 year old Effingham resident, Maddox Cole, whose illuminating smile proves that he never meets someone he doesn’t like, even on a tough day.

Before birth, during the 29th week of gestation, an ultrasound revealed abnormalities; Maddox would be born with an encephalocele, which is an opening in the skull. Encephalocele is a rare birth defect of the neural tube when it fails to close completely during fetal development; this in turn affects the brain. Approximately 340 babies are born with this per year. His skeptical physicians said that Maddox probably wouldn’t survive birth. On June 23, 2008 Maddox came into this world ready for a fight. At just seven days old, he underwent brain surgery to help with the rare defect.

Although the surgery helped him survive, he does suffer from additional medical conditions. Chelly Davis, his grandmother, shared, “In addition to cerebral palsy and seizure disorder, Maddox is also nonverbal and wheelchair bound at this time.”

At the early age of 2 years, he began Botox injections to help with his muscles; they become very stiff making it difficult to move around.”

In 2012 at the age of four, Maddox’s primary caregiver, his Papa Mike, passed away. Chelly quickly stepped in to take over, along with the support of her extended family.

Despite Maddox’s obstacles in life, Chelly does everything possible to ensure a “normal life” for him. He is a third grader at a local school, where he attends like most students Monday through Friday each week.  “He receives physical, occupational and speech therapies throughout the week at school. In addition, one day a week he attends back to back physical, occupational, and speech therapies away from his educational environment,” his Mimi explains. Maddox’s schedule doesn’t stop there. “He is also a member of the Special Kicks program at Pooler Karate, where he learns karate as a form of therapy one day a week. Maddox hobbies include swinging at school, karate, swimming in the summer and interacting with others,” Chelly proudly annotated. Maddox takes his karate very seriously. In November 2016, he tested and earned his green belt!

Maddox lives and thrives on his schedule full of activities. However, caring for anyone with special circumstances always has difficulties. At eight years old, he weighs 90lbs and his mobility has proved to be one of the biggest challenges this family faces.

“My biggest obstacle would have to be lifting him in and of bed, in and out of his wheelchair, in and out of the bathtub, in and out of the van, etc. In addition to lifting him, I also have to disassemble, reassemble and lift his wheelchair in and out of the van every time we leave the house. We also struggle greatly with communication since he’s nonverbal, but sign language and a new speech device have helped somewhat,” explained Chelly.

This kid with a smile of gold needs help from his community. Maddox is in need of a wheelchair friendly van. Over the past year, several fundraisers have commenced to raise funds to help this family. Chelly elaborated, “Our biggest two fundraisers were a board breaking at Pooler Karate put on by Carson Fortner’s Special Kicks Nonprofit Program in April of 2016 and a car and bike show at the Pooler Recreational Complex, organized by a family friend, Cleveland Harrity, Carson Fortner with Special Kicks, and Chelly’s daughter Lauren Rich. Other support came from Special Kicks, One Nine Design Co, Mr. T-Shirts and several local sponsors in October 2016. We’ve also had several other smaller fundraisers and donations made to the Make Maddox Mobile fund since April of last year. Our overall goal is to be able to purchase a wheelchair accessible van.”

With this van, their daily life would be become easier. With Maddox being immobile, his Mimi, Chelly takes on his mobility. “The amount of lifting would be dramatically decreased and we would have more freedom to leave the house in inclement weather,” she confessed.

Maddox Cole entered this world with hurdles beyond measure ahead of him. He has come face to face with them and claimed victory on so many in his short life. Even though he has a tough road ahead of him, he brings that fresh outlook of courage and optimism with every situation he encounters just by flashing that smile. “Maddox is the inspiration that keeps me going,” Chelly loving conveyed.  “He is the happiest kid and can always bring a smile to anyone’s face.”

The family has set up a Go Fund me account: https://www.gofundme.com/37YX2MR8 and Maddox’s story and updates can be followed on Facebook: facebook.com/make-maddox-mobile-1685361218380623. Also, donations can be made directly to Pooler Karate.

Towne Pharmacy

story by susan lee     photos by tonya chester perry

An older gentleman walks through the doors of his local pharmacy. As soon as he is greeted by the friendly young woman working behind the counter, he gives her a broad smile and tells her, “I always like coming here to see everybody.”

That level of personalized care and compassion is what Effingham residents have come to expect at Towne Pharmacy. Independently owned and operated by Pharmacist Kathy McMillan, Towne Pharmacy, as part of the Health Mart System, has delivered the highest-quality medicines, services and health products since 2005.

“There’s nothing more important than your family’s well-being,” says Kathy. “We try our best to know the name of every customer who comes through our door.”

Kathy says she is extremely grateful for and proud of her pharmacy team and the fact that they consistently deliver friendly, fast and professional service. “Our staff is awesome,” she says. “I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without them. Everyone here takes the time to get to know the customers and is so patient about answering any questions they may have.”

Towne Pharmacy’s team of professionals consists of Anna Willis, Barbara Joyner, Emily Engel, Melfenia Baker, and Monica Johnson.

Kathy says a majority of their customers’ questions pertain to drug costs and insurance. “Changes in healthcare have caused great confusion among not only Medicare patients but also private paying patients,” she says. “Prescription drug costs have continued to rise, so we work with the patient and the physician to find the most affordable option for the patient.” She adds that they often contact insurance companies and then explain to the patient and physician what drug costs will be covered.

Another focus of the Towne Pharmacy staff is medication management, a service Kathy explains is important in helping patients receive the most benefit from their medications. “We provide patient education on the importance of following a medication regimen correctly to prevent health consequences and to reduce the number of doctor or hospital visits,” she says. “And because some patients see several doctors, we keep track of all their medications and make them aware of any prescription medications that might interact. Our goal in building strong relationships with our patients is to improve their overall health.”

The dedication to patient care has been a part of Kathy’s life since she was a child. Her grandmother was a nurse, her mother was a radiology technician, and her father was a physician. “From a young age, I became interested in taking care of patients and often visited my father at the hospital where he worked. When I was in high school, my grandmother actually suggested that I should be a pharmacist.”

Kathy heeded her grandmother’s advice and has now been a pharmacist for 21 years. She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina, then graduated from University of Georgia’s pharmacy school in 1996. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” she says.

Perhaps because her mother had to quit working to care for Kathy and her three siblings, she works especially hard to find the right work/home life balance. She has two beautiful daughters, Caroline, 11, and Riley, 9.



• Compounding of customized


• Diabetes products and services

• Email and text message refill reminders

• Drive-Thru

• Medicare Part D

• Medication reviews



• Broad availability of brand and generic

prescription medications

• Private-label, over-the-counter


• Pharmacist counseling

• Bathroom Aids

• Canes & Walkers

• Diabetic Supplies

• Medical Supplies

• Wound Care

• Reading Glasses


Towne Pharmacy also offers a full line of vitamins, supplements, and over the counter medications. Burt’s Bees, Now Foods, Jarrow Formulas, and Nature’s Way are just a few of the product lines. In addition, the pharmacy features a wide variety of home décor items, seasonal designs, greeting cards and gifts for any occasion as well as the popular and unique Simply Southern line of t-shirts and accessories.

Towne Pharmacy is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They’re located at 6014 Hwy. 21 South in Rincon. For more information, call (912)826-0250.