Snellville Pediatrics celebrates 40 years of service
By Beth Volpert-Johansen
Dr. Javad Deganian is among the most beloved physicians in all of Gwinnett County and surrounding areas. After 40 years in Snellville, his arms still love the feel of holding a brand new baby or getting an unsolicited hug from a 6’5” teenager.
As he and his staff, one of whom has been with him since day one, prepare to celebrate four decades of pediatric service, Dr. Deganian reflects on how it began and the impact it has made on him and the children of Gwinnett County.
Dr. Deganian and his office medical assistant, Marian Levey, opened the doors to Snellville pediatrics on April 1, 1975. “I don’t know why we chose April Fools Day,” laughs Dr. Deganian. “But that is the way it happened.” The smile, laugh, and easygoing nature of Snellville’s first pediatrician can put any parent at ease. Children are a little harder to convince, but once they get to know him, they become lifelong friends.
One mother of three of those lifelong friends, Francine Root, was among the very first to sign in at the new practice. Dr. Deganian’s office offered a simple spiral notebook with pages divided by the headings: “Parent’s Name” and “Child’s Name” handwritten by Marian across the top of the page.
Francine’s son, Steven, has his name written in the logbook under Saturday, April 5, 1975 and appears to be the third patient seen by Dr. Deganian at his new practice. “I remember talking to some of the ladies I played bridge with about the new doctor,” says Francine. “We agreed he was very easy to understand, very caring, and very knowledgeable; Snellville was really lucky to have him here.”
Snellville was a very small town in 1975. Dr. Deganian chose to locate his office near W.C. Britt Elementary School in a small building next to the Huddle House. “Some of the patients were upset that I was charging the same rates as the doctors in Atlanta,” says Dr. Deganian. “I thought, why not, I went through the same schools as they did!” Those “intown” fees that Dr. Deganian charged ran a whopping $10 for an office visit and $8 for a recheck. “The biggest challenge for me was to make sure I had the people’s confidence,” says Dr. Deganian. “I had to convince them that I could give as good of service as the doctors in Atlanta.”
Marian, who had been a student in the medical assistant program at DeKalb College, was with Dr. Deganian from day one. They met and interviewed one another over a cobbler at the Country Manor Restaurant on Main Street in Snellville. “It was a whole different world than it is now,” says Marian. “I remember stacks of paper charts with the bill attached to the outside ready for each day... I would write, “OV x1 = $10”, on the bill and send it home with the parent for them to file with their insurance-if they even had any.”
Several other staff members have been with Snellville Pediatrics for more than 15 years. Two CMA’s, Nancy Mealer and Janet Starkweather have worked with Dr. Deganian for more than 30 years.
“I was just a baby myself when I started,” laughs Nancy. “There were no kids and no marriage yet, I was fresh out of nursing school and my whole life, everything I have done has been since we’ve been here.” Nancy speaks fondly of raising her family and going through life within the family of Snellville Pediatrics. “This is so much more than a practice,” says Nancy. “This is our family.”
Janet Starkweather, who began her career as an intern with Dr. Deganian, agrees with her co-worker and friend. “There have been lots of changes over the years with the practice, the town, and the hospital,” says Janet. “Through all of those years, it has been like working with family.”
Dr. Deganian smiles when he recalls the years he and a small group of doctors began pushing for a hospital to be built in Snellville. “I am the only one of the “Magnificent 7” who is still practicing,” says Dr. Deganian. “It was not easy to bring the hospital to Snellville, but we managed it because it was needed.” Dr. Deganian still has the memento he was given at the celebration for the new hospital. It is a simple tongue depressor jar with the date, December 15, 1979 printed on it. “It reminds me of where we were then, a growing town in need of a hospital,” says Dr. Deganian. “The whole of medicine is changing; it is now a completely different entity.”
Despite the fact that medicine has changed greatly from what it was in the days when office visits were less than the cost of a modern day lunch, Dr. Deganian still loves to come to work. “I love to see the children,” says Dr. Deganian. “It is wonderful to see second and third generations coming here.” The best part of his practice has been the family atmosphere and watching the kids grow. “They became my neighbors and friends,” says Dr. Deganian. “The people of Gwinnett have loved me and I love them; they support me which means everything.”
Dr. Deganian talks a great deal about receiving joy from daily living. He finds joy in the children he serves and the generations of parents who still bring their children to him. He speaks affectionately about his own four sons, extended family and friends. The doctor also loves hiking in the solitary quiet of the Blue Ridge Mountains where he enjoys his long-time hobby of photographing nature. Many of his photos line the halls of the 1700 Tree Lane building where patients visiting a variety of doctors are treated to colorful and peaceful scenes.
With forty years of pediatric practice, a thriving hospital, and a legacy of patients, family and friends, Dr. Javad Deganian considers his life well-lived. The practice of medicine and the desire to care for the children of Gwinnett County are still very much a part of his routine. “I don’t know how long I will practice,” says Dr. Deganian. “As long as my mind works and my body works, I will keep working.”