2019-02-06 / Front Page

Children’s Hospital of Georgia has Millen roots

By Deborah Bennett
Millen News editor


Kathryn Rocker Sturkie is shown in 1988 at the age of five months with Dr. Charles G. Howell Jr. on the day she was released from the Medical College of Georgia hospital. Dr. Howell successfully performed surgery that removed an invasive tumor from her neck. Kathryn’s surgery set in motion a series of events that led to the establishment of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. (Photos contributed) Kathryn Rocker Sturkie is shown in 1988 at the age of five months with Dr. Charles G. Howell Jr. on the day she was released from the Medical College of Georgia hospital. Dr. Howell successfully performed surgery that removed an invasive tumor from her neck. Kathryn’s surgery set in motion a series of events that led to the establishment of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. (Photos contributed) The Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta, affiliated with Augusta University Health, celebrated its 20th birthday in 2018. The facility opened May 1, 1998 at what was then the Medical College of Georgia. The fact that the hospital’s “roots” can be traced back to Millen, however, was a little known fact – until recently. The information was revealed by Dr. Charles G. Howell Jr. during the Children’s Hospital’s birthday celebration which was held on December 20, 2018.


Bobby Dwelle is shown with his granddaughter, Kathryn Rocker Sturkie, upon her first visit to see him in Atlanta in 1988, shortly after her surgery, while the Georgia Legislature was in session. Mr. Dwelle, long-time Chief Aide to Speaker of the House Thomas Murphy, was responsible for initiating the effort to bring the Children’s Hospital of Georgia to Augusta, GA. Bobby Dwelle is shown with his granddaughter, Kathryn Rocker Sturkie, upon her first visit to see him in Atlanta in 1988, shortly after her surgery, while the Georgia Legislature was in session. Mr. Dwelle, long-time Chief Aide to Speaker of the House Thomas Murphy, was responsible for initiating the effort to bring the Children’s Hospital of Georgia to Augusta, GA. Dr. Howell’s Story

In January, 1988 Dr. Howell was Chief of Pediatric Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia, as it was known then, who treated the five-month old daughter of King and Beth Rocker of Millen for a tumor growing in the child’s neck. The surgery was successful and a grateful grandfather, Bobby Dwelle, also of Millen, expressed his appreciation by telling the doctor that if there was anything he could ever do for him, to “just let him know.”


Kathryn Rocker Sturkie and Dr. Charles G. Howell Jr. are shown during the Dec. 20th, 2018 twentieth birthday celebration for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. Kathryn was a patient of Dr. Howell’s as a baby. Kathryn Rocker Sturkie and Dr. Charles G. Howell Jr. are shown during the Dec. 20th, 2018 twentieth birthday celebration for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. Kathryn was a patient of Dr. Howell’s as a baby. Dr. Howell was not impressed, but remarked, “We need a children’s hospital”, to which Mr. Dwelle replied, “I’ll get to work on it.”

Dr. Howell quickly forgot the conversation – until only a few weeks later when he received a call from Mr. Dwelle inviting him and then Medical College of Georgia President Francis Tedesco to Atlanta to discuss the matter with Speaker of the House of Representatives, Thomas B. Murphy, and the Governor.

What Dr. Howell had not known was that Mr. Dwelle was Chief Aide to Speaker Murphy who had great influence over state appropriations. Ten years later, Governor Zell Miller was in Augusta dedicating the facility.

The Rockers’ Story

While Dr. Howell presented the facts, King and Beth Rocker lived them. And their recollections are much more personal.

Prior to the birth of their daughter, Kathryn, in 1987, the Rockers lost twin babies who were born prematurely. So, when Beth noticed a “lump” in her new baby’s neck, she immediately expressed her concern to the pediatrician, who initially dismissed her worries. During a regular visit to the doctor’s office when Kathryn was five months old, Beth again expressed her worries and the pediatrician made arrangements to send them over to Dr. Howell to “make her feel better.”

“Dr. Howell took one look at the child and said, “There is a mass in her neck. Come back tomorrow and bring your husband,” Beth said.

After numerous tests, the Rockers were devastated when they were told that the mass was most likely malignant and Kathryn would need an operation. A frantic Beth immediately called her father who was in Atlanta at the Capitol at the time, stating that she wanted him to find the best pediatric surgeon in the nation to perform her baby’s surgery.

The next day, Bobby Dwelle called his daughter and told her, “I’ve investigated and Dr. Howell is one of the top 10 doctors in the nation. We aren’t going anywhere.”

Thankfully, the tumor was not malignant but was invasive. The critical operation was a complete success, which prompted Mr. Dwelle’s offer of assistance to Dr. Howell following the surgery.

But, the story doesn’t end there for the Rockers. As often happens in life, events sometimes run a course that brings you full circle.

Kathryn grew up and married Taylor Sturkie of Waynesboro. The couple’s twins were born at AUHealth on October 1, 2016, and spent six days in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, the same hospital where Kathryn received care as a baby and the same hospital that her grandfather helped establish. During this time, Beth and King were in awe of the expert medical care received by their grandchildren

“The neonatal unit is the most amazing place. It will just open your eyes to see all of that. I feel a tremendous gratitude for this place that not only saved my child’s life but also helped save the life of my grandchildren. ,” said Beth.

The story continues

Dr. Howell has now retired, but remains an energetic advocate for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, speaking to clubs and organizations around the state, where he often tells the story of its beginnings with a thankful Millen grandfather.

King and Beth’s experiences at the Children’s Hospital have touched their lives significantly and made such an impression upon them that both now serve on the Children’s Hospital Advisory Council, a committee of 20 that is comprised of doctors and parents of pediatric patients among others. Beth has served since 2016 and King began serving in 2017.

The board’s purpose is to enhance the awareness and image of the Children’s Hospital and with the help of the board members, provide an outside view on what is needed to make the hospital better. It is the board’s intent to also identify philanthropic opportunities to support improvement in existing services and development of new programs.

“As board members, we were shocked to realize that there are so many people throughout our state who have no idea that the Children’s Hospital even exists and that the ones that do, have no idea as to the specialized care it can provide. Our mission is to ‘spread the news’ by helping educate people about one of the greatest assets our state has,” Beth said.

So how does the story end?

It doesn’t. It is never-ending!

Beth still finds it difficult to talk about those dark days when she and King waited anxiously for word on the outcome of their young daughter’s surgery, and says that they will always remember her father’s efforts to bring the Children’s Hospital of Georgia into existence. She is also thankful to Dr. Howell for telling the story.

Bobby Dwelle died in 2014 at the age of 90, but his contribution to the establishment of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia lives on in the lives of Beth and King, Taylor and Kathryn and their twin boys, Gray and Davis, and in the lives of the more than 100,000 babies and children who receive treatment each year at the facility, many of whom are from Millen and Jenkins County. They, also, come from all over the state and neighboring states. The Children’s Hospital of Georgia is the second largest children’s hospital outside of Atlanta and ranks as one of the nation’s highest performing hospitals in pediatrics.

And it all began with a successful operation and a thankful grandfather from Millen who turned his gratitude into an avenue of healing for thousands.

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