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Gwinnett Medical physicians serve local, global community

A perfectly polished grand piano sits in the main room of the Gwinnett Extended Care Center just before Christmas 2014. Residents of the Center, along with some caregivers and family members, are gathered in the same room.

The atmosphere is one of cheerful anticipation; with Christmas only a week away, a grand piano can only mean one thing: Christmas music.

At precisely 3:30 p.m. a tall, slender man takes his seat at the piano, and a woman enters the room with him, taking her place behind a set of drums. By all appearances, GECC has hired a couple of talented musicians to entertain the elderly residents for an afternoon. But a closer look reveals an even better story.

The pianist is Gwinett Medical Center neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Stechison, and the drummer is his wife, psychiatrist Cheryl Gratton. The pair played Christmas music for the eager audience, throwing in a couple of jazz tunes for the sheer entertainment of it. Stechison and Gratton head up jazz group, “Nervous Habit,” and they play music, at home or wherever their group is booked, simply because they love it. They couple played at GECC just before Christmas, with the sole purpose to bring some joy and Christmas cheer to residents.  

“We are so honored to be here today, so happy to be able to play for the residents here,” Gratton said after the concert, which lasted well over an hour. When asked when the pair has time to relax, much less play in a professional jazz band, Stechison replied, “Well, when we go home, that’s what we do together. We both love it.”

Stechison and Gratton are just two examples of Gwinnett Medical Center physicians who believe in investing in their community, going above and beyond skilled surgery or practiced counseling. 

concert 1 ret2 440
L to R: Drs Gratton & Stechison, Peggy & David McCleskey, (Chairman of GMC Board of Directors and wife); Carole Townsend at Gwinnett Extended Care, December 19, 2014.

A healthy community, according to Gwinnett Medical Center’s Chairman of the Board of Directors David McCleskey, begins where the community lives, and the support is reciprocal. “Our success comes on many fronts of support throughout the greater Gwinnett Community. First is the grassroots support of the citizens we serve as a community hospital.  We are distinguished as a quality health care provider and being viewed as a community asset.”

There are many other examples of GMC physicians giving back to the Gwinnett and surrounding communities, extending well beyond their skill in the office or operating room.

LifeNet system makes cardiac care faster, more efficient
LifeNet, which  was funded entirely through donations from physicians,  provides doctors with quality information in a time when each minute is critical. It can greatly impact any patient who requires urgent cardiac care.  The LifeNet system expedites diagnostic times, and allows for quicker treatment upon arrival at GMC. Through the transmission of diagnostic information via LifeNet, the catheterization lab can also be mobilized if necessary. Team preparedness is a critical step in treatment, because the speed with which clinicians can take action is key to saving heart muscle.

GMC Dr. Leslie Leigh 190GMC neonatologist, Dr. Leslie LeighFor the life of a baby
Dr. Leslie Leigh and fellow GMC neonatologist Dan Suskin, M.D., purchased the Cool-Cap System for the hospital a few years ago. The technology cools the brain for a few days, then slowly rewarms it for four hours. The technology, which must be applied within six hours after birth, reduces the severity of neurologic injury. This lifesaving technology can mean the difference between an infant suffering debilitating brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation, and developing physically and mentally healthy, with minimal or no injury to the brain.

The two neonatologists, passionate about providing unsurpassed medical care to babies born in or suffering critical circumstances, knew that Cool-Cap, by lowering a baby’s body temperature just a couple of degrees under certain stresses, minimizes or altogether eliminates damage to the brain due to oxygen deprivation. It seems like a simple concept, but it is also profound. Since the two physicians gifted the hospital with the Cool-Cap system, many families are quick to say that their children’s lives were saved at Gwinnett Medical Center.

Medical mission trip opens doors for lifesaving surgery
When a young man from Ethiopia needed advanced cardiac surgery, Gwinnett Medical Center (GMC)-affiliated cardiologist Michael Lipsitt, M.D., GMC and Jewish Healthcare International stepped up to help. Recently, David A. Langford, M.D., one of the lead surgeons at GMC’s Strickland Heart Center, successfully performed the complex triple valve replacement that the 29-year-old required. This charitable work was made possible by contributions from individuals, from the hospital, and from Jewish Healthcare International.

Eyasu Minas Woldekirkos required valve replacement surgery, which resulted from severe rheumatic fever he had as a child.  Woldekirkos’ recovery was uneventful, and he was discharged just six days from the date of surgery.

“Our vision is to enhance the health of our patients and other customers, as well as to partner with our physicians and health organizations to treat disease and create a healthier community,” said Phil Wolfe, GMC’s president and CEO. “While our involvement and support was simply our vision put into motion by many, we were humbled to play a role in the patient’s journey to health.” 

Dr. Lipsitt first met Woldekirkos during a medical mission trip in April, where he worked on behalf of Jewish Healthcare International. At a routine examination, Dr. Lipsitt noticed distinct signs of declining health in the patient.

“Upon examination and reviewing the results of his recent echocardiogram, I knew the patient’s valves were incredibly dysfunctional; I had no idea how he was alive,” said Dr. Lipsitt. “I never dreamed it would be possible to get Eyasu to Atlanta for this operation. However, with the cooperation of Gwinnett Medical Center, Dr. Langford, Jewish Healthcare International and Representative Tom Price, an impossible feat was accomplished.”

“Our goal is to save and improve lives,” said CEO Gene Rubel of Jewish Healthcare International, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing education and access to healthcare. “It was a distinct honor to lend our knowledge, leverage relationships and help orchestrate this effort that led to such a highly successful outcome for a man who was once critically ill.” 

These illustrations are just a few examples of GMC’s outreach to the local and global community, and both the hospital and the community benefit from these efforts.  For more information about Gwinnett Medical Center, the neonatology unit and the Strickland Heart Center at GMC, visit

GMC440 Dr Langford with Dr Michael Lipsitt and Eyasu
Dr. Langford with Dr. Michael Lipsitt and Eyasu, Jr.