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.

Comments (146) Add comment
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Rose
17
Points
Rose 09/19/09 - 02:34 pm
0
0
I saw Ms. Harden on the news

I saw Ms. Harden on the news last night, and she has lost a lot of weight, and she has a job.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 02:53 pm
0
0
I too wonder if she is

I too wonder if she is working, and if she has other children, and/or married. Also, the tax issue. I think it was wrong for Mrs. Beard to suggest helping one woman she knows in need instead of suggesting donating to the citizens as a whole, such as a park, a school, or something along those lines. I wonder if she would have used her influence to suggest helping an average joe who is losing their house becuase of medical debt from a sick child, another disabled joe she doesn't know, etc.... Why is this the only person she has done this for. Has she helped any other individuals in similar situations, or is it just another case of, you can get something just by who you know. I don't blame the lady for taking the help to get her life back, who wouldn't, unless she still is not working, has kids already before this last one, isn't still working on her weight and doesn't truely appreciate the gift she has been given. We have seen it happen before.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 02:57 pm
0
0
I hear ya humbleopinion, it

I hear ya humbleopinion, it is sickening that they think those who do try and work hard to take care of their responsibilities to have to help pay for those who will not, not can not, take care of their own responsibilities.

justus4
99
Points
justus4 09/19/09 - 03:02 pm
0
0
U read 2 or 3 of the posted
Unpublished

U read 2 or 3 of the posted comments and U know that ignorance is working overtime. Ms Beard CAN'T go to jail! (U figure it out) What charges are ol Fry facing? What are the predicted numbers of years he is facing? He was caught attempting to bribe city officials-a serious violation! Ms Beard's authorized actions V. Ol' Fry's bribe attempt--The bribe is a SECRET act, while Ms Beard's actions were in plain public view. Wow! And thats only one material difference-the results will be clear: Ol' Fry MUST be convicted. No stories from yesteryear, no cheering the ignorant, no changing of the subject, from the AWM can effect the law. Again, what charges are Ol' Fry facing and what judge will hear the case? Once thats known, a prediction will immediately follow...stay tune.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 03:08 pm
0
0
Justus if you feel that way,

Justus if you feel that way, why not protest for the criminal who gets off to be put in jail, don't protest to let another criminal free. you say that all the time. That is assinine. Just becuase one killer got off with a slap from an ignorant judge or jury doesn't mean they should all be free. You contest the one who got the slap... duhhhhh

klaviergrd
5
Points
klaviergrd 09/19/09 - 03:34 pm
0
0
It wasn't HER money to give

It wasn't HER money to give at all. This is so absurd. No wonder
Augusta can't get it together. It's another 'us" and "them" problem!

nofrills
0
Points
nofrills 09/19/09 - 04:07 pm
0
0
Charity (practice), the

Charity (practice), the practice of benevolent giving,

giwi
101
Points
giwi 09/19/09 - 04:14 pm
0
0
Betty needs to pay the money

Betty needs to pay the money back so that it can go to an organization that can help many people not just one. She is a crook!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RichmondCountyResident1
29
Points
RichmondCountyResident1 09/19/09 - 04:19 pm
0
0
Some of y'all miserable

Some of y'all miserable idiots need to get a life. Good job Betty and Maxwell House LLC, at least somebody in this community has a heart.

Tufenuf
0
Points
Tufenuf 09/19/09 - 04:30 pm
0
0
Has anyone considered the

Has anyone considered the income tax and gift tax consequences of this scenario. The donation was no doubt
deducted by the giver and this creates consequences to those
receiving the money.
This should be brought to the attention of the IRS.

Roeschen
1
Points
Roeschen 09/19/09 - 04:45 pm
0
0
Maybe if she had exercised

Maybe if she had exercised control - like pushing away from the table - she wouldn't have weighed almost 500 lbs. Was it illegal for Betty Beard to give this woman who has no control the money? Probably not. Did it benefit anyone in the community other than this fat woman? No. Therefore, it could not be considered a charitable contribution. It was meant for one person. Maybe the IRS should investigate Betty Beard and start proceedings against her.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 09/19/09 - 04:53 pm
0
0
For the uneducated idiots

For the uneducated idiots that say let this go. You and people like you are the reason this woman is in trouble. Just because you have a sympathetic feeling, it is not going to help someone like this lady, who may have violated tax laws. Give the woman some advise she can use. I would have thought someone who is a politician and was married to a politician and who is responsible for the operation of a major city, would know just a little about income tax laws before she tried to help someone. And Ms. Beard is in realestate, isn't she?

sassygirl12
1
Points
sassygirl12 09/19/09 - 04:57 pm
0
0
what gives betty the right to

what gives betty the right to take it upon herself to let this woman have this surgery...ohh its probably some kin folk of hers. this should have been everyones decision not just this crooks...stick her skinny no good for nothing self behind bars where she belongs. maybe the next time she will use that pea brain of hers to think about it before she makes a decision of that nature...and the bad thing is,is she expected no one to say anything..she thinks she is so much better than everyone else..if i ever see this thief again in my life it will be to soon....

disssman
6
Points
disssman 09/19/09 - 04:57 pm
0
0
And oh by the way. Before

And oh by the way. Before you start jerking your thoughts about my being a devil, I will say I feel extremely sorry for this lady and her mother. In fact I admire both of them for their courage during this terrible last couple of years. I guess the bottom line is, I am concerned that she got into something that she had no idea of the consequences.

RichmondCountyResident1
29
Points
RichmondCountyResident1 09/19/09 - 05:14 pm
0
0
Sorry Roeschen, Betty didn't

Sorry Roeschen, Betty didn't recieve a dime, so why would the IRS investigate her. How do you know they( the young lady) haven't already filed the money with the IRS?Wait to get more of the facts, before making accusations. But, judging by yours and the others, it wouldn't matter. Let's get Betty no matter what. Ask yourself, what prompted this story now?

SouthernChic
3
Points
SouthernChic 09/19/09 - 05:23 pm
0
0
I hope Betty Beard stays out

I hope Betty Beard stays out of jail so that she can continue to work to personally repay this wasted 25K she stole from the community. This woman she helped can afford children but can't afford a life saving surgery? Hello, can someone say PRIORITIES? Betty Beard's logic is like a kid that stole someone's credit card and trying to make it look like it's okay by saying, "but I used it for a good cause!" Beard had no right to appropriate community funds to a a single individual. She is no better than a common thief.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 05:24 pm
0
0
We know it wasn't reported

We know it wasn't reported because it is in the article. Her mother is quoted as saying it. LOL It wasn't Roeschen's accusation RCR, its a fact stated by them.

KSL
126987
Points
KSL 09/19/09 - 05:47 pm
0
0
Typical.

Typical.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 09/19/09 - 06:05 pm
0
0
She appropriated $20,000 in

She appropriated $20,000 in funds for her hairdresser's daughter's surgery? That's quite a tip. Must be quite a hairdresser. Seems to me, that personal association should have ruled out a gift like that outright.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 09/19/09 - 06:10 pm
0
0
"Some of y'all miserable

"Some of y'all miserable idiots need to get a life. Good job Betty and Maxwell House LLC, at least somebody in this community has a heart.
Posted by RichmondCountyResident on Sat Sep 19, 2009 4:19 PM" Oh, I understand now, RCR, the reason you call so many people names and otherwise run them down is you don't have a heart!

Rose
17
Points
Rose 09/19/09 - 06:57 pm
0
0
baroness you have no heart.

baroness you have no heart. Now how does that feel?

convertedsoutherner
2
Points
convertedsoutherner 09/19/09 - 07:12 pm
0
0
An over 300 lb woman gets

An over 300 lb woman gets pregnant and hasn't worked for a yr. Guess she's been able to do some things. Could it be that after paying for her surgery we could also possibly be paying for the baby and the woman to enjoy this new life?

RichmondCountyResident1
29
Points
RichmondCountyResident1 09/19/09 - 07:13 pm
0
0
Rose, Baroness and

Rose, Baroness and Takeastand, were the same persons defending the lowlife who attacked the lady at Cracker Barrel.Baroness, you have heart only for one race of people.These black women can't get no love from you.Like I said before, you're a RL!!!!!

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 09/19/09 - 07:17 pm
0
0
Rose, I'm not the one that

Rose, I'm not the one that said it, RCR implied it and I just was going along with what he said. Read it again.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 09/19/09 - 07:21 pm
0
0
RichmondCountyResident, you

RichmondCountyResident, you are lying again. I have heart for all people, even when they fall from grace, white, black, or any other race. I did not defend the man that attacked the woman at Cracker Barrel in front of her daughter. You need to reread my posts. I just said we don't know all the facts and I already said several times there was NO excuse for him beating her, (if he truly did). Since when do you believe without reasonable doubt everything you read or see in the media? You don't, and neither should I or anybody else? That would be gullible indeed.

RichmondCountyResident1
29
Points
RichmondCountyResident1 09/19/09 - 07:28 pm
0
0
Baroness, you are a sad sick

Baroness, you are a sad sick person.They should play a serenade with your post. You try to sound so good, but you worst than most racists. At least, they aren't hiding behind calm words. It not the racist marching in the street that are the dangerous. It's folks like you and KSL.

Roeschen
1
Points
Roeschen 09/19/09 - 07:47 pm
0
0
Betty Beard could have given

Betty Beard could have given this money to Ronald McDonald House, to Fisher House, to the Burn Center Foundation, to The Children's Hospital - or to any number of charitable foundations that would have actually helped a number of people. Instead, she gave the money to this woman, a woman without an ounce of self-control. A woman who got pregnant - is she married?- so she can raise another generation of people without any self-control. This woman got herself fat. It was not a disease, it was lack of self-control. Had she had a life-threatening DISEASE, I could have felt sorry for her. However, what she had was a case of life-threatening lack of self-control. I have no sympathy. Yes, I believe the IRS should be made award of both the donee and the donor and the amount of money that should never have gone to this woman. If this sounds mean, sorry. This is where OUR tax dollars will go.

RichmondCountyResident1
29
Points
RichmondCountyResident1 09/19/09 - 07:51 pm
0
0
Well Roeschen, if that was

Well Roeschen, if that was your choice, good for you. No need in crying over spill milk.Besides, you said you live Waynesboro, what are you talking about? Some people!!!

Brad Owens
4294
Points
Brad Owens 09/19/09 - 08:04 pm
0
0
Most of you posters are

Most of you posters are either complete idiots who cannot read and comprehend or you are ignoring the facts. Mrs. Beard didn't get the money, the county did. The county returned the oney. The developer, who had already gotten the vote, asked Mrs Beard (because the project was in her district) what she would reccomend, she said this and a PRIVATE business gave the money. Funny, I don't see all you TEE supporters and so-called conservatives crying for Fry to be lynched...why? Beacause he is white? You all are IDIOTS!!! This is nothing more than a political hit piece and it is all because whitey can't get his way. TEE= corporate welfare

youbetcha
0
Points
youbetcha 09/19/09 - 08:04 pm
0
0
First mistake, Betty taking

First mistake, Betty taking her husbands place as a commissioner! omg My husband is a neurosurgeon, when he passes I too shall have a new job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Give me a break! My grandmother was right all these years, Augusta will never amount to anything but a one horse town!

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