Written by Lori J. Connors
Photos by Steve Babin
Amy George, Director of Corporate and Government Relations for the Huntsville Hospital Foundation has spent nearly two decades building awareness and raising funds toward the purchase of life-saving equipment for the Huntsville Hospital Women & Children Regional Neonatal ICU and to support the NICU’s Family Services.
The Huntsville Hospital Foundation is the fundraising arm for Huntsville Hospital. In her role, Amy works with corporate donors and government entities who support the hospital.
Long before her role with the Foundation, the Muscle Shoals native was a news anchor from 1996-2007 for WHNT Channel 19. Her husband Chris played hockey with the Huntsville Channel Cats, the precursor to the Huntsville Havoc. His jersey prominently hangs on the wall in the Propst Arena.
When Amy left the world of TV news in 2007, she went to work for the Foundation, then left to stay home with her two young daughters, Ann Catherine and Lily Baker. She returned to the Foundation in 2016 as a grant writer. In 2019, she moved into her current position.
The couples’ unexpected role as fundraisers came about through a deeply painful experience, one that left them profoundly grief stricken – the loss of their infant daughter, Melissa.
In June 2005, Amy gave birth to twin daughters Ann Catherine and Melissa Suzanne. They were born 14 weeks early. “They were just incredibly sick, so tiny, and they were taken to the NICU,” she said. “Melissa had complications that all the best technology in the world just could not help. She passed away later that same day. Ann Catherine did not have those same complications and went on to spent 68 days in NICU and came home on August 7, 2005.”
“The whole time that we were in the hospital we were so touched by the care our daughters received,” said Amy. “The medical care was second to none. We were also moved by the care that Chris and I received, how the nurses cared about us and would explain to us in great detail what was going on. On days that we needed a hug, they would give us a hug. On days where we needed to cry, they let us cry. It’s just such a special place, that unless you’ve had a child there, it’s hard to understand.”
When Ann Catherine was discharged, Chris said, ‘Amy, I think we’re in a position where we could help a lot of people, that we could try to bring something good out of something so awful.’ At the time, Amy was a main anchor at Channel 19. As a recognized local TV news persona, she had a built-in platform. Chris was also well-known through the Huntsville Channel Cats. “To be completely honest, I didn’t want to,” said Amy. “I didn’t think that my heart could go there. We had just lost Melissa and it was so raw still and so painful, and I just didn’t think I could do it.”
“When Melissa passed away, the world just went dark,” she said. “There’s no other way to describe what losing her felt like. I remember in those early days, just wanting to close the door of my bedroom and never leave again. I think it was a few days after she died, just realizing that she’s not here, but Ann Catherine is, and she needs her mother. I think it was what helped me be able to put one foot on the floor and get up in the morning and continue to live.”
Chris continued to bring up the idea of reaching out, so the couple began talking about it, praying about it, and then decided that this was the path that God was leading them on, to take their tragedy and transform that loss into something that could help others.
In November 2005, the Georges founded the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund, which is overseen by the Huntsville Hospital Foundation. Since its inception, the Fund has raised $4.2 million dollars toward helping babies and their families who come through the regional NICU at Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children.
“When we started Melissa’s Fund, we just wanted to raise people’s awareness,” said Amy. “Because of how touched we were by how the NICU took care of our girls and us, we wanted to support the NICU, to raise money to provide medical equipment for the NICU and offer program support.”
Since Huntsville Women’s and Children is home to the region’s neonatal unit, every neonate in North Alabama is transported there. For those who might not live nearby, it can create a hardship. It can also become very expensive for families who may live 1-2 hours away and are driving back and forth. It’s especially difficult for families with other children at home.
To donate, visit https://www.huntsvillehospitalfoundation.org/get-involved/give-now
When your child is admitted to the hospital, you also want to know that the facility has the most up-to-date equipment. For those unfamiliar with the costs of Neonatal medical equipment, it can be a real eye-opener. A single Giraffe OmniBed costs $41,000; one Voyager Isolette is $187,000.
“We also provide program support for families who have been admitted into our NICU. We make sure that their needs are being met,” said Amy. “We provide bereavement support, because Chris and I walked that really interesting NICU road where we know what it is like to leave without your child, and we also know what it is what is like to bring your child home.”
“Because we know both sides, we know how important the medical equipment is because it helped save Ann Catherine’s life and that’s why she came home and is with us now,” said Amy. “Because we know it’s like when medical equipment isn’t enough, we want to fill those other gaps.”
“A few years ago, we started a support group for families who have lost infants. It’s called the HOPE group. HOPE stands for Helping Other Parents Endure,” said Amy. “It really came about in an interesting way, because ever since I lost my daughter, hope has always been my word. Hope is my word because it is what I cling to.”
The HOPE group meets monthly and is a service of Melissa’s Fund, but partners with the trained medical professionals at Hospice Family Care because of their experience in dealing with grief and loss.
The Fund’s double header benefit event falls on the first weekend in August. The Miracle Bash on Friday evening features a buffet dinner, one of the largest silent auctions in town, and provides special moments that connect guests to the meaning of the event. On Saturday morning, hundreds of kids ages 4 – 14 swim laps to raise money for the babies.
In 2021, a major uptick in COVID cases prompted the unexpected. “The Miracle Bash was supposed to be August 6 and Swim for Melissa was going to be August 7,” said Amy. “But we hit a surge – the week of the event. We ended up having to cancel the in-person part because we’re a hospital foundation. At the time, we just didn’t feel that it was right to hold a big in-person event while nurses and doctors at the hospital were trying to treat COVID patients.”
“But the amazing thing is that we ended up having record proceeds, $265,000, in a year where we didn’t actually meet in person,” said Amy. “I think that speaks volumes to what Melissa’s Fund means to people and of the support that we received. That was a really neat thing to experience during a week that was really hard for us.”
“There’s so many different facets of what we do,” said Amy. “But at the end of the day, our main purpose is to to help families that are walking that same really hard road that Chris and I walked.”