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 - 08:12 pm
0
0
Oh, I understand now, RCR,

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!
Posted by baroness on Sat Sep 19, 2009 6:10 PM Baroness you did say it.

youbetcha
0
Points
youbetcha 09/19/09 - 08:20 pm
0
0
Brad Owens are you saying

Brad Owens are you saying that Betty Beard had no influence over where the money would go? Then you can't read and you my dear are a idiot! Wrong is wrong. This is not a race issue. By the way how dare you use the slur whitey! Who do you think you are?

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 08:25 pm
0
0
RCRacist all I did was answer

RCRacist all I did was answer YOUR question about something that YOU apprenantly didn't read!! And you are a flat our liar that I defended that guy. Wanting to know details of a story while saying he should be punished to the max and he is not a real man for what he did is not defending him. Evidently your reading comprehension is getting worse. Don't add me to your list of insults tonight just because I pointed out something YOU missed in the article. [filtered word] you off when you are wrong huh. And I said I don't blame this lady one bit, she didn't do any crime except not report it to the IRS. However I do find it odd, that someone struggling with her weight that was killing her, a year later has a child, and I explained that.

methree
0
Points
methree 09/19/09 - 08:26 pm
0
0
hey-i have a sob story,too.

hey-i have a sob story,too. can i have 20,000 dollars? what is her tie to ms beard?

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 08:35 pm
0
0
sda, its ok when they do it.

sda, its ok when they do it. You can't be racists towards whites. And brad owens, the TEE center crap has been going on forever, do you expect people to keep commenting on it forever, I don't even pay attention to those things anymore, just like how stupid the new ball stadium is, it goes on and on with supporters of such a waste of money. Augusta does nothing but waste and waste and waste all the while the city is going to hell. And I do not even know who the heck fry is, must have went on after I got tired of reading tee center crap or while I was offline for a while. If betty did her job correctly, she wouldn't have used her influence to get one person that money, she would have suggested something that benefited the city as a whole, thats probably why she catches so much heck. I don't even know much about the other crap people complain about. I could care less about the commissioner stories, theres more drama there than a soap opera. This just happens to be a new story, that looked like a happy one, until I read it!

youbetcha
0
Points
youbetcha 09/19/09 - 08:39 pm
0
0
What they should of done was

What they should of done was go after Blue Cross Blue Shield.
DOCTORS recommended by pass surgery, but they said no.
What do they pay for? NOTHING! That is why health care is in such a mess! This women had insurance for crying out loud! But they said no!!!!!!! It's like beating your head up against a wall! You just can't win!

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 08:43 pm
0
0
Is Betty Beard black? News

Is Betty Beard black? News to me. lol I thought she was white. Now I see why all the racists comments. You crazy people don't cry to get the white punished as they should be, you want the black criminals set free. Makes sense now, thats the way justus and his thinkers work, free the criminals, make excuses for them.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 08:46 pm
0
0
I agree sda, wheres the line

I agree sda, wheres the line of protesters to get things like that changed and the national news about it? But let someone say or do something they twist into racist that wasn't and a million people will march!

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 09:09 pm
0
0
"I talked to Ms. Beard a

"I talked to Ms. Beard a couple of weeks ago, indicated that we have interest in putting $25000 into downtown Augusta in some form, and I said I was aware that Ms. Beard is an advocate of the Boys & Girls Club of Augusta and said that if she wished the money to go there, it could go there, and it could go there if she chooses. That's where we stand today," Gallagher's portion of the minutes reads. But obviously she changed her mind, its no different IMO than a dr using his influence to get a transplant recipient to the top of the list ahead of others who have been waiting years for their lives to be saved. Her Fund for the lady was her own personal charity case, she should have influenced that money offered to the community for the community, or at least for the community porject she "advoctes" for.

RichmondCountyResident1
29
Points
RichmondCountyResident1 09/19/09 - 09:19 pm
0
0
Takestand, the Real racist,

Takestand, the Real racist, is losers like who finds a reason to go against blacks on every issue. Iit don't matter about the facts, racist like you will find a way to oppose the black side.If you have a problem with a black man, step to one.

sugar babe 74
0
Points
sugar babe 74 09/19/09 - 09:25 pm
0
0
if the money was sent back to

if the money was sent back to Mr.G.then he agreed to help this lady,what are you bi111ing about? the money no longer belonged to anyone but Mr.G,he okyed to help this lady,so he offered to give the money to the lady it was no longer Augusta's money to do anything with.

RichmondCountyResident1
29
Points
RichmondCountyResident1 09/19/09 - 09:30 pm
0
0
That's all you can do, run to

That's all you can do, run to the webmaster.

iluvcollardgreens
0
Points
iluvcollardgreens 09/19/09 - 09:35 pm
0
0
sugar babe you are

sugar babe you are correct.When this is all over Austin Rhodes will be made the fool.

iluvcollardgreens
0
Points
iluvcollardgreens 09/19/09 - 09:36 pm
0
0
BTW I'm a conservative and i

BTW I'm a conservative and i see the heart felt and selfless decisions that were made to help this lady.

KSL
129205
Points
KSL 09/19/09 - 09:37 pm
0
0
Rose, you said the person has

Rose, you said the person has a job now. Where is she working?

KSL
129205
Points
KSL 09/19/09 - 09:39 pm
0
0
Wonder why it wasn't

Wonder why it wasn't mentioned in the article. Being able to go back to work is a significant part of the the story. Poor reporting to leave that out.

iluvcollardgreens
0
Points
iluvcollardgreens 09/19/09 - 09:39 pm
0
0
If you beleive in the lord

If you beleive in the lord and follow his word no weapon formed against you shall prosper.Mrs. Beard and the lady she helped will win this in the end.

iluvcollardgreens
0
Points
iluvcollardgreens 09/19/09 - 09:41 pm
0
0
Oh yea tell where she works

Oh yea tell where she works so her present job will fire her thats the way to go

Grasshopper
7
Points
Grasshopper 09/19/09 - 10:14 pm
0
0
wjbf.com has the answers!

wjbf.com has the answers!

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 11:34 pm
0
0
I am assuming your 9:19 was

I am assuming your 9:19 was at me, what was it? The posts haven't worked for over an hour over here, I never got to see it, so I surely didn't report it. What can they do, remove it again?

humbleopinion
0
Points
humbleopinion 09/19/09 - 11:39 pm
0
0
Hey nofrills, charity and

Hey nofrills, charity and benevolent giving is when YOU give YOUR money. All she did is direct somebody else's money to this one person. There is a big difference. Democrats DO NOT understand that though.

TakeAstand
13
Points
TakeAstand 09/19/09 - 11:50 pm
0
0
I would have had more respect

I would have had more respect for what she did if it was a fund to fight the insurance companies for things like turning this woman down. Insurance companies make you choose your plan almost by what you want to suffer from and what you can afford to suffer from. I know some people in similar situations where their insurance won't help them so they can remain in the workforce and continue to pay/have insurance, and it would save them in the long run. But they are s.o.l because they do not have a commissioner with access to money to help them get their treatment for free. They make it almost easier to just apply for disability to get free medical that way, the gov't would rather you be disabled and collect a check than to help someone get better who wants to remain in the workforce.

wizzardx1
0
Points
wizzardx1 09/20/09 - 07:27 am
0
0
A downtown bank was robbed

A downtown bank was robbed but the criminal was released and forgiven when it was learned that he gave .01% to a needy person.All is well.

nofrills
0
Points
nofrills 09/20/09 - 07:42 am
0
0
They list it as she was a

They list it as she was a transplant recipient but I want to know what they transplanted? She was fat. This was not a life or death. It was only going to be a life or death problem if she didn't start eating right and make some changes in her life. Instead she took the easy lazy fix. I have a friend that tipped the scales at 360 pounds. After one year of a new diet and walking everyday he is down 80 pounds and looking great. Betty Beard didnt help save a life!

corgimom
32247
Points
corgimom 09/20/09 - 10:26 am
0
0
I just wonder why Betty Beard

I just wonder why Betty Beard didn't contact BC/BS on behalf of that woman. And I wonder who is going to pay for the plastic surgery that woman will need, to get rid of the excess skin.

KSL
129205
Points
KSL 09/20/09 - 06:59 pm
0
0
corgi, the whole "story" is

corgi, the whole "story" is there now and it's quite interesting.

Seashells
0
Points
Seashells 09/20/09 - 07:24 pm
0
0
The surgery,doctors and the

The surgery,doctors and the visits afterward probably cost more than $20,000. Most times delinquent hospital bills get spread out among the ones with insurance and the money to pay their bills. That is why it costs $5 to get an aspirin while in the hospital!!!!!!!!!!!!

noway
201
Points
noway 09/21/09 - 10:54 am
0
0
She MAY have saved the

She MAY have saved the woman's life, but she should have NEVER diverted ILLEGAL money to an individual. Beard is supposed to represent Richmond County, not individuals. This is wrong on ALL LEVELS! Do people not realize when they are getting FAT? Do something BEFORE it gets to that point. Ridiculous. And then the fat woman raises MY insurance rates...I hope Beard goes to jail for the rest of her life.

whyme
1798
Points
whyme 09/21/09 - 12:42 pm
0
0
If this had been handled so

If this had been handled so differently it would have been such a good thing but everything about it turned out badly. Taking money in exchange for a vote (so what if it's been going on for years), giving a large sum of money to someone's elective/mandatory surgery that wasn't really the donor's to give, the recipient not claiming it in taxes or at least checking to see if she should, and keeping things hush-hush until the media breaks the story. What a mess.

whyme
1798
Points
whyme 09/21/09 - 12:42 pm
0
0
If this had been handled so

If this had been handled so differently it would have been such a good thing but everything about it turned out badly. Taking money in exchange for a vote (so what if it's been going on for years), giving a large sum of money to someone's elective/mandatory surgery that wasn't really the donor's to give, the recipient not claiming it in taxes or at least checking to see if she should, and keeping things hush-hush until the media breaks the story. What a mess.

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