'Big Challenges. Big Hearts': A WGEM News In-Depth Report - WGEM.com: Quincy News, Weather, Sports, and Radio

'Big Challenges. Big Hearts': A WGEM News In-Depth Report

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Eight-year-old Colton, a patient at the Shriners Hospitals for Children, goes through physical therapy for clubbed feet. Eight-year-old Colton, a patient at the Shriners Hospitals for Children, goes through physical therapy for clubbed feet.
Courtney Hankins, a patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children, gives her nurse a thank you gift, six weeks after scoliosis surgery. Courtney Hankins, a patient at Shriners Hospitals for Children, gives her nurse a thank you gift, six weeks after scoliosis surgery.
Dr. Farshid Guilak explains his new research center at Shriners Hospitals for Children. Dr. Farshid Guilak explains his new research center at Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Workers sit behind the front desk at the Shriners Hospitals for Children – St. Louis. Workers sit behind the front desk at the Shriners Hospitals for Children – St. Louis.
A statue stands outside the Shriners Hospitals for Children – St. Louis. A statue stands outside the Shriners Hospitals for Children – St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (WGEM) -

They're known for their fez hats and small cars, but the Shriners Hospitals for Children is helping families right here in the Tri-States. 

A new $50 million facility opened last year in downtown St. Louis, providing mostly free care, with no family turned away. The 90,000-square-foot space houses in and outpatient services and has an entire floor dedicated to cutting-edge research.

"Whether it be barbecues, we do a big circus every year,"  Rusty Petty, with the Ansar Shrine in St. Louis said. "The car shows, it's fundraisers. It takes a community to run these hospitals, and everything we do is to just raise money for that."

Imagine having a child who can't walk. The only hope is undergoing advanced medical care you can't afford. For some Tri-States families, that's a very real situation.

The Shriners Hospitals for Children - St. Louis is where kids with big challenges go for help. They leave with big hope.

"I feel great," patient Courtney Hankins said. "Better than I did because my back would hurt a lot."

Twelve-year-old Courtney is six weeks post op, after having surgery to correct severe scoliosis. She gave a goodbye present to her nurse before she left. For local Shriners, that moment is what it's all about.

"Everybody associates Shriners with the funny cars, the hats, the fezzes," Ansar Shrine Marshall Rusty Petty said. "The best kept secret of the shrine is our hospitals."

They raise money through bake sales, barbecues and the ever-popular Shrine Circus. Want to know where that money goes? Just take a look around the new $50 million facility.

The hospital has everything from orthopedics and physical therapy, to inpatient services and a new research lab, and it's all available at little to no cost to families.

Hannibal mom Jonna Coons says that's why she scheduled an appointment for her son.

"In third grade, it kind of started bugging me quite a bit," Mason Latta said. "My ankles, and my knees, were hurting."

Mason was born with severe flat feet. He's been using custom made shoe insoles over the last few years to help correct his stride.

"For us, it was just a great opportunity to get him excellent care," Mason's mom said.

Behind that care is the hospital's team of doctors.

"It goes beyond the surgeon," orthopedic and neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Kelly said. "It's the people that help you before surgery, the people that help you during and the people that help you after surgery that really make care as good as possible."

Doctors here say the facility is known for its specialty expertise, and the freedom they have in creating innovative ways to treat patients. That, combined with individual passion, adds to the high level of care.

"Once you become invested in it, the drive is excellence," Kelly said. "If you want to be part of that excellence, this is the place to be."

Families agree. For Courtney, a budding sports career is on the horizon next year.

"I'm a basketball and soccer player," she said.

"If a family needs this place, they need to be here," Courtney's mom, Sherri Hankins, said. "They're awesome."

Mason is already back to playing basketball, baseball, track and maybe even something more.

"I might even play football with the Hannibal Middle School," Mason said.

It's all thanks to the Shriners Hospitals.

The hospital's third floor is entirely dedicated to research through a partnership with the Washington University Medical School.   The team is diving into regenerative medicine and looking for a way to grow bones and ligaments from a patient's own cells. 

"We're building a team that will probably be the largest musculoskeletal research lab of its kind in the country,"  Research Director Dr. Farshid Guilak said.  "So, hopefully, we'll be somewhere around 30 or 40 people over the next year or two, as we recruit new students and staff."  
The research team's new facility is still in the works, but should be fully operational within the next few months.
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