The little birds don't look like much on the grill. But to Anthony Pearson-Shaver, they could be a tremendous comfort to a family whose child is gravely ill, the kind of family he sees every day.
Dr. Pearson-Shaver is one of 91 doctors who will bare their culinary skills at the Doctors Who Cook benefit Saturday for the Children's Heart Program at Medical College of Georgia. He is modest about his own entry, smoked Cornish game hens with a peach-bourbon glaze.
"It's just something I came up with on my own, just to keep the Cornish game hens from getting too boring," he said.
Putting up 20 of the birds on his backyard grill seems like little to help the families who come into the pediatric intensive care unit, where Dr. Pearson-Shaver is interim chief of the section of pediatric critical care medicine. Even though parents are well-prepared for what the surgeons will do, they are never quite ready for the sight of their child lying in a bed in intensive care afterward, Dr. Pearson-Shaver said.
"The first 24 hours after those surgeries are particularly trying," Dr. Pearson-Shaver said as he sat at the nurses' desk in the center of the unit, with beeping alarms and hustling staff buzzing around him. "Their child doesn't look good with the swelling and surrounded by tubes."
Even the chairman of the Children's Heart Program Volunteer Council, Julie Moretz, has felt those same terrors as she looked down on her 7-year-old son, Daniel.
"My son has been through it 10 times, and you still never get used to it," she said.
As they stand by the bedside, the families can be easily frightened by an alarm on the machine helping their child breathe or by other machines. And mostly what they want is information, Dr. Pearson-Shaver said.
"Just to have somebody able to sit down and ask questions (of)," he said. "As difficult as it may sometimes seem, most parents really want to know what is going on."
The unit has made a change in philosophy toward family-centered care, involving the family and allowing family members to stay in the room with their children. That will only get better when the unit moves to the new Children's Medical Center and gets larger rooms and a larger waiting area where families can have their own space, Dr. Pearson-Shaver said.
"It's going to be huge," he said.
The Doctors Who Cook event itself is just another way of helping those families. Last year it raised $22,000 and this year organizers are shooting for $27,000, Mrs. Moretz said. That money will be used for things like paying for hotel space when families can't afford to keep staying near their children, or buying rehabilitation equipment, even sending some seriously ill children and their families to Disney World, Mrs. Moretz said.
"For some of these kids, this will be the only vacation they ever have," she said.
And for Dr. Pearson-Shaver, despite all the cooking, it's a good time.
"It's a good time to see colleagues. If your dish is a little burnt, no one cares," he said, laughing.
And beyond the food, the cooking says something else about the doctors, Mrs. Moretz said.
"They're donating more than their money. They're donating their time and energy," she said. "They know how this program is helping the kids."
Although the Doctors Who Cook benefit is again sold out, recipes from past years are available in a new book. Hearts of Gold contains not only the recipes, but inspirational messages from families involved in the Children's Heart Program. It is available at area bookstores and some department stores.