Chiari malformation pediatric patients, parents worried about specialist’s contract


Some local pediatric patients and parents say they’re worried that a specialist at Children’s Hospital of Georgia may not have his contract renewed.  That’s why they started a petition and it has been signed by nearly 600 people.  It calls for Augusta University administrators to renew Dr. Ian Heger’s contract before it ends in June.  Some of those who signed are parents of pediatric patients who say they come from all over the country to receive treatment from Dr. Heger at CHOG. 

Missy Bonsack is one of them. 
“Panic, devastation.  I cried,” she explained hearing the news that Dr. Ian Heger’s contract might not be renewed. 

It shocked Bonsack and her family.  She tells NewsChannel 6 her husband cut his salary in half and relocated fom St. Louis, Missouri a year ago to help save their daughter Lucy’s life. 

“We interviewed three doctors; one in New York, one in Chicago and one here.  We came down here and he spoke over two hours with our family,” Bonsack said of Dr. Heger.

It was a conversation that changed everything. 

She continued about her daughter, “Her MRIs showed that she had blockage with 98 percent in the front and 98 or 99 percent in the back.  We were in deep trouble. She had cerebral spinal fluid coming out of her nose.”

Lucy Bonsack said the last four years of her life have been a blur dealing with chiari malformation, a neurological disorder with no cure impacting the brain, since she was 8-years-old.  She’s now 14 and the only doctor who has been able to help her could be leaving the area. 

“When I say I’m in pain, he listens and takes it seriously,” Lucy said of Dr. Heger’s work.  “He says ok, we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

While the Bonsack family saif they can not move to follow Heger, Amanda Franks said going where Georgia’s only chiari specialist goes is a must. 

“He’s still here so we have hope, which is why we’re looking to reach out to the hospital’s administration,” Franks said hoping to explain how important Dr. Heger is to the state and the southeast.

Franks lives in Dublin, Georgia just shy of two hours from Augusta.  Her daughter, 15-year-old Shelley, came to Dr. Heger after seeing a neurosurgeon who was not a chiari specialist. 

She added, “Shelley’s condition progressed very rapidly and she went from something’s wrong to is she going to live?”

Shelley agreed and said Dr. Heger is a lifesaver.

“I probably would not be here if he didn’t operate when he did.”

Doctor Heger was unavailable to talk with us Friday.  We did reach out to the hospital’s media relations department, but we’re still waiting for a response.  Those parents said a meeting with hospital administrators is set for January 14.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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