Surgery saved obese woman

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She couldn't work. She couldn't walk. She couldn't breathe.

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Atosha Harden before gastric bypass surgery  Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Atosha Harden before gastric bypass surgery

Two and a half years ago, Atosha Harden had become so morbidly obese, her health so critical, that her mother feared she would lose her. Her lungs weren't expanding properly. She suffered seizures and sleep apnea, and she was in the hospital every month with pneumonia. She was also on the verge of kidney failure.

At her worst, Ms. Harden said, she weighed 465 pounds.

"I had to bathe her, like a baby," her mother Hazel Newsome said. "She was dying."

A customer service representative for Augusta Utilities, Ms. Harden had health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield. Doctors were recommending gastric bypass surgery -- an intestinal rearrangement to decrease stomach volume -- but the company wouldn't cover it, she said.

But the surgery was done on May 10, 2007, at Trinity Hospital, and it was done because of Commissioner Betty Beard, Ms. Harden said. Ms. Beard told The Augusta Chronicle on Wednesday that she steered $20,000 to Ms. Harden's surgery out of a $25,000 donation given to the city by Edmundson and Gallagher Group, the developer who turned Maxwell House Apartments into Section 8 housing.

Why the money was paid and how it wound up funding a city employee's surgery is now under investigation by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office and the FBI, a source in law enforcement confirmed to The Chronicle on Thursday. Ms. Harden and Mrs. Newsome said they never expected this to happen, and they feel awful about it. The scrutiny might lead to problems for them, too, because the money wasn't reported in tax filings, Mrs. Newsome said.

"She saved my child's life," Mrs. Newsome said of Ms. Beard.

"I hate it," Ms. Harden, 39, said. "I understand that people are going to have their opinions and their views, but she was my angel-sent. She was my voice when I had no voice."

Also defending Ms. Beard on Friday was Edmundson and Gallagher principal Tom Gallagher, who called the notion that his company bribed Ms. Beard to get support for Maxwell House renovations "absolutely ridiculous."

Ms. Beard, whose home phone was perpetually busy Friday and who didn't answer her cell phone, said Thursday that "if I have to go to jail over something like this, that's fine." Mr. Gallagher said the same goes for him, and he'd be more than willing to explain it all to the FBI.

In 2004, the Virginia-based developer and Atlanta-based Progressive Redevelopment were trying to drum up support for the Augusta Housing Authority's issuance of tax-exempt bonds allowing Maxwell House, a high-rise at the corner of Greene and 10th streets, to be renovated into subsidized housing.

Mr. Gallagher said when he first proposed the plan to city officials, the deal included a $25,000 charitable contribution.

"As part of that transaction, we said we'd like to put something back into the community," he said.

Initially, when he made the pitch to Main Street Augusta -- a now-defunct arm of the Downtown Development Authority -- he suggested the money go toward streetscape improvements on Greene Street, Mr. Gallagher said. He said this was done in the open, to the organization as a whole, and later to the commission as a whole.

"Really, we 'bribed' everybody," he said. "They're called proffers in the public world."

Mr. Gallagher said it's a common practice across the country. When a developer seeks to profit off a community, they offer to give something back, he said.

"This is done all the time in these deals," he said. "Normally, it's demanded. It could be a turning lane, it could be a contribution to the community, it could be a day care."

Both Main Street Augusta and former Mayor Bob Young -- who as mayor could have signed off on the bond endorsement the company was seeking -- refused to back the Maxwell House plan. Mr. Young said Thursday that he didn't think downtown needed any more Section 8 housing.

But Mr. Gallagher found support on the Augusta Commission. Ms. Beard said Thursday that she supports affordable housing and would have voted to approve the resolution regardless of the $25,000 offer.

The bond endorsement resolution passed 7-3 in December 2004. Mr. Gallagher said he called Ms. Beard later and told her he wanted to honor the $25,000 commitment, that the money could go to a charity of her choice. He said he was dealing with her because the building was in her district.

According to city financial records obtained under an open records request, Maxwell House LLC cut a $25,000 check to the city in September 2005. Ms. Beard presented a $5,000 check to the Augusta Youth Center on Oct. 4.

But at the Oct. 18 meeting, Mr. Young raised the issue and then-City Attorney Steve Shepard advised returning the money, saying he was concerned that accepting a gift violated the ethics ordinance and could create an appearance of impropriety for Ms. Beard. The commission voted 6-2-2 to do so, with Ms. Beard abstaining.

The city cut a $20,000 check to Maxwell House LLC, dated March 23, 2007 -- 17 months after the commission vote. Mr. Gallagher said when the money came, he spoke to Ms. Beard again and said he still wanted to give the money to charity. She suggested helping a morbidly obese employee, and Mr. Gallagher said he approved.

Asked who the $20,000 was paid to, Mr. Gallagher said he couldn't recall, that the records are now in storage.

Mrs. Newsome said she had set up the Atosha Harden Health Fund at First Bank, and she doesn't know who deposited the money into the account. She said she, in turn, paid the money to bariatric surgeon Michael Blaney.

Before the surgery, Ms. Harden had been out of work for more than a year on long-term disability. She was taking nine different medications and was on oxygen.

Her mother, Mrs. Newsome, said Ms. Beard has been a friend of the family since the early 1990s, when Mrs. Newsome was her hairdresser and Ms. Beard and her late husband, Lee Beard, lived in Maxwell House themselves.

After she mentioned the health insurance problem to Ms. Beard, the commissioner took the matter to City Administrator Fred Russell, who said Wednesday that he told her nothing could be done. Mrs. Newsome said Ms. Beard later told her she could get the money out of a donation.

Ms. Harden said she's since lost 245 pounds. She put on 15 pounds before she gave birth to a daughter in March, but she's since lost that weight, too.

"I'm still losing," she said. "I feel so good. I'm able to do things that I never thought I'd be able to do again, like go to the mall, go to the grocery store, walk to my car.

"She was just doing something from her heart," Ms. Harden said of Ms. Beard. "This wasn't malice or deceit. This was nothing to benefit her. This was just her helping someone that she knew didn't have any any alternatives."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

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HillGuy
7
Points
HillGuy 09/19/09 - 03:08 am
0
0
The FBI needs to look into

The FBI needs to look into the Downtown Development Authority...this Beard donation is nothing compared to the shenanigans the DDA engages in on a regular basis..and don't forget, the DDA was to be the authority controlling the TEE parking deck that is at the center of the bribery scandal. You can say nothing is there.. buit it just doesn't add up.

NEone
6
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NEone 09/19/09 - 03:38 am
0
0
I'm sorry, but how does

I'm sorry, but how does giving a single person $20,000 help the community? It doesn't compare to tree-planting or turn lanes or many other worthy ideas. If Ms. Beard wanted to help this individual, she should have opened her personal checkbook.

wizzardx1
0
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wizzardx1 09/19/09 - 04:07 am
0
0
Just another smoke-screen to

Just another smoke-screen to divert attention.This could not have been much surgery,I had an ulser repaired and my bill was over $40,000.I wonder if she will pay that for me?It seems very easy to give away someone elses money.

WhippingPost
1
Points
WhippingPost 09/19/09 - 04:46 am
0
0
Mark Twain once told a story

Mark Twain once told a story about two farmers talking. "See that cow yonder?" said one of the farmers. "Yep", said the other. "Recon you was to call it's tail a leg, how many legs would it have?", said the first. "Five", said the second farmer."Nope", said the first,"calling it a leg don't make it a leg". Helping a citizen with bribe money is still taking bribe money. Do each of us get to decide our guilt or innocence just by having a perspective, regardless of existing law? Do we get to take actions, without restriction, as long as we "feel" we're doing the right thing? Saving a person's life is admirable, but if Mrs. Beard isn't restricted by the laws in this case, it leads one to wonder where else she's not restricted by the law.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 09/19/09 - 04:48 am
0
0
It is always kind to do

It is always kind to do something for 1 individual such as this when done with YOUR OWN MONEY. But, once a donation is received to the county to benefit the county, then this type of behavior is completely unacceptable. I am sure she needed help but there are plenty of county employees and citizens that need help and this is irresponsible government. As for Mrs. Beard, when she acted without the consent of the majority of the commission, she did so as an individual and although maybe no law was broken, this is about as irresponsible as it gets. If the county administrator or others approved a county check to be cut without knowledge of the commission they should at the very least be fired. Politicians love doing what they please with other peoples money. I can get the fact that its ok to give the county a dontaion for a contract, that is acceptable and with the entire commissions knowledge, etc. out in the open, it is ok. But, when the money was then diverted by one commissoner to one county employee, that is deceitful, fraudlent and possibly illegal but either way it is unethical at the very least and unfair to all taxpayers, citizens and employees.

TrukinRanger
1748
Points
TrukinRanger 09/19/09 - 05:56 am
0
0
Perhaps this is one of the
Unpublished

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Ms. Beard is not running for office again. I'm sure she had heads up on this investigation and knew she'd be busy explaining why she STOLE this money!

my.voice
4731
Points
my.voice 09/19/09 - 05:59 am
0
0
Where in heck does the AC

Where in heck does the AC come off running this story?

CobaltGeorge
155438
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CobaltGeorge 09/19/09 - 06:22 am
0
0
Why Not, this is news with a

Why Not, this is news with a lot of yes and no opinions. Distribution of wealth was working itself into the system even in 2007. The beginning of health care reform.

ispy4u
0
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ispy4u 09/19/09 - 06:23 am
0
0
So that idiots like Hillguy

So that idiots like Hillguy and the rest can come on here and spew their B.S. I have problems with a lot of the was that my tax dollars are spent so why should I single out this particular one. OI was against paying for a skateboard park, Doggie Park, yet guess what? They wasted money on them. I guess I had rather a fellow human benefit than Fluffy.

convertedsoutherner
2
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convertedsoutherner 09/19/09 - 06:56 am
0
0
Sme people continue to show

Sme people continue to show their bias, no matter what the topic. Wrong is wrong.

1bone
0
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1bone 09/19/09 - 07:02 am
0
0
of course mrs. beard is free

of course mrs. beard is free to donate any of her time and money she wishes to whatever cause she deigns worthy; taking someone else's donation - in this case, a suspicious donation made under the auspices of affordable housing - is wrong, no matter how you spin it. sorry the obese girl had health problems and i'm glad she feels well enough to give birf to the first of what will hopefully be many, many, many chirren.

xanadu
0
Points
xanadu 09/19/09 - 07:04 am
0
0
AC is running the story now

AC is running the story now because yesterday the ever-arrogant BB said "this should be a human interest story." So -- voila!! BB speaks, said interest story is now published. If it was such a human interest story, how come it wasn't put in the paper back when it happened?
Number one, can you say: "Step away from the buffet table." for starters? Number two, if BB was so concerned and broke up over her, why didn't she break out her own money or take up a collection amongst the church or whatever for the poor old thing? I'm with the person above who stated that the donation was given to the city as a whole, not for one individual who is too lazy to take personal responsibility and allows themselves to balloon up to 400-some pounds. They would have been better off spending the money on fixing up their deplorable road system downtown.

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 09/19/09 - 07:18 am
0
0
First of all, why wouldn't

First of all, why wouldn't the insurance cover the surgery? This procedure would cost the insurance company less in the long run. No wonder we need health care reform. Second, it was mighty nice that Beard wanted to help, but something just doesn't smell right. What she did was deceptive and unethical. She should have take a collection from her rich friends beginning with writing a check herself and not involve ARC inthe first place. That is what's wrong with Augusta. However, glad the lady has better health.

Riverman1
82393
Points
Riverman1 09/19/09 - 07:21 am
0
0
So, Sheriff Strength, are you

So, Sheriff Strength, are you going to arrest her like you did David Fry? You have more than enough evidence. The answer is no. The community wouldn't tolerate Beard being locked up. The article is a way to separate her crime from the other bribes and take everyone off the hook. I say let Fry go, too, if we are going to play this way.

deekster
24
Points
deekster 09/19/09 - 07:27 am
0
0
The "need" by the Progressive

The "need" by the Progressive Development " group to put something back into the community is idiotic. I guess they had a sweetheart deal like all of the developers to "not pay taxes in ARC". Are there no laws with regard to "gifts given" to elected public officlas. How about no more than the cost of a meal during business hours?

deekster
24
Points
deekster 09/19/09 - 07:29 am
0
0
I love these "folks" who do

I love these "folks" who do charitable works with someone else's money. I'll bet Betty Boob stood up and accepted appaulse at church for this heart felt deed.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/19/09 - 07:32 am
0
0
This was not Augusta's

This was not Augusta's $20,000. The commisioners voted to give the money back to Maxwell. The money was sent back to Maxwell. Maxwell then sent the money to Mrs Harden. Why is it so hard for you people to understand? It is not against the law for a company to help someone, from their own funds.

deekster
24
Points
deekster 09/19/09 - 07:33 am
0
0
Disgustia must have committed

Disgustia must have committed some awful sin to be so "cursed of GOD". Why doesn't Sister Kennedy invite the enitre ARC government to a healing service?

xanadu
0
Points
xanadu 09/19/09 - 07:57 am
0
0
Isn't she thanking the wrong

Isn't she thanking the wrong person, anyways? BB didn't save her life, whoever gave that 20,000 bucks (and thought it was going to go for the city, not some overweight bimbo) is the one who saved her life. And gee, ain't it grand that her life was saved so she could get up enough energy to go and make a baby? How come we aren't hearing about how happy the daddy is she doesn't weigh as much as a house anymore?

BR549
2
Points
BR549 09/19/09 - 08:04 am
0
0
Back when I worked for the

Back when I worked for the county, they didn't offer to help me with my weight issue. All they did was harass me about it. I wish Betty Beard had been a personal friend of my family. If she was, maybe I could have gotten the surgery that I needed rather than the constant berating that I received. I don't care what the intent was, this is a theft, plain and simple.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/19/09 - 08:09 am
0
0
How is this theft? Who is the

How is this theft? Who is the theif? The 20,000 was given back to Maxwell. Maxwell didn't say Beard used her political clout to force the money to Mrs Harden.

sgtdette41
0
Points
sgtdette41 09/19/09 - 08:11 am
0
0
Has the lady who lost all the

Has the lady who lost all the weight been able to return to work and get off long-term disability???? She had a baby since the surgery and looks very mobile now.

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 09/19/09 - 08:13 am
0
0
Too much free Govt cheese

Too much free Govt cheese maybe made her so fat ?

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 09/19/09 - 08:13 am
0
0
Too much free Govt cheese

Too much free Govt cheese maybe made her so fat ?

BR549
2
Points
BR549 09/19/09 - 08:14 am
0
0
It was the county's money,

It was the county's money, right? The commission voted 6-2-2 to give the money back. Betty Beard instructed that the county's money be given to one person. That's not HER decision to make. That makes it a theft.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 09/19/09 - 08:15 am
0
0
Maybe I just do not

Maybe I just do not understand. Mayor Young and Steve Shephard said give the money back. It was given back and put back into the developers account. The developer then called Mrs. Beard and said he still wanted to give the money to someone or something. Mrs Beard suggested he help a person that was dying. I still fail to see any wrong in that since it then was not Augusta's money. I would like to be on the jury if this ever comes to trial. Lots of people help others with money gifts. Should a family member or a friend send a 1099 every time they give others money. I think this is just BS.

calltomission
0
Points
calltomission 09/19/09 - 08:16 am
0
0
I love Mrs. Betty Beard

I love Mrs. Betty Beard because she is not in this for herself, she is concerned about people. I would have done the same thing to help a lady that was in need. I wish we had more politicians like Mrs. Betty Beard. I haven't seen this kind of love, care, and support from a politician in such a long time. Mrs. Betty Beard was interested in saving a life. Everybody knows what this personal attack on Mrs. Betty Beard's life is all about "Politics" as usual. Some of the Richmond County commissioners act just like some of the Health reforms organizers. I guess we will a lot of so called "Rep. Joe Wilson" personalities. "You lied." A great lady, Mrs. Beard, and when people see that they can't control you, they want to digged up something on you to hold over your head. Mrs. Beard, I am so proud of you how you handled this situation with the press. You stepped up to the plate and faced your critics. Your critics throw a ball and hide behind it. Everybody knows that this is much personal, and it is politics. First they tried to set up Commissioner Corey Johnson, and Mayor Pro Tem Mr. A. Mason. What are they going to try next or who are they going after. I's proud of You, Mason, & Johnson.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 09/19/09 - 08:19 am
0
0
BR549 the money was returned

BR549 the money was returned at the suggestion of the county attorney and the mayor and put back in the developers account so it was no longer county money. Reread the letter. Mrs. Beard did not decide what to do with it, the developer did.

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/19/09 - 08:26 am
0
0
calltomission, you are just

calltomission, you are just as wrong, I support the tea party and Joe Wilson. However, I don't see where Mrs. Beard took a bribe or misappropriated funds. Don't be so closed minded, you are no better than those you criticize.

convertedsoutherner
2
Points
convertedsoutherner 09/19/09 - 08:28 am
0
0
And we know that the money

And we know that the money was given to the lady (with no promise of anything by Maxwell) and BB would vote against any benefit to Maxwell.

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