The Power of Partnerships for Patients

Collaborating to improve health care

Andrew Whitehurstby Steve Wheeler

Since 1977, Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida has grown from two small trailers in Immokalee into a $35 million healthcare agency with 330 employees caring for
an average of 40,000 individuals a year, including 27,000 children, making it the largest single provider of pediatric care in Collier County.

This extraordinary growth is a direct result of the many collaborating to improve care collaborative efforts Healthcare Network shares with organizations and institutions such as Florida State University College of Medicine, University of Florida, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Florida, Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) and others. The value that Healthcare Network places on partnerships has allowed them to improve the quality of care they provide for some of the most vulnerable in our community, like Andrew Whitehurst.

In 20 short years, Andrew has overcome more adversity than most of us will face in a lifetime. Complications at his birth were later diagnosed as cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism.

Doctors told his mother Melissa her son would never walk or talk. He does both. His simple joy for life always evokes a smile from his mom.

Melissa and AndrewBut Andrew’s own smile was sorely deteriorating to a point that no one fully understood until a visit to the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) Dental Pediatric Center. It was a visit that would change his life.

“Over the years it has been extremely difficult to obtain proper dental care for Andy,” she explains. “Exams made him a nervous wreck. He tends to be very fearful and loud so
they were not able to complete a thorough exam.” Even basic treatment, such as cleanings, required anesthesia, for which the family’s medical and dental insurance companies refused to pay.

“I knew Andy hated to have his teeth brushed,” Melissa says. “But I had no idea how serious his dental issues were.” Last year, Andrew was referred by his family dentist to the NCEF Pediatric Dental Center located on the Naples campus of Edison State College. The center is one of very few in the state with the resources to provide specialized dental care for children like Andrew. Staffed by the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida and pediatric dental residents from the University of Florida College of Dentistry, this 20,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility offers routine and specialty services for underserved children ages birth to 21.

Andrew was seen by Dr. Lauren Governale, Clinical Director of NCEF Pediatric Dental Center, who recommended further treatment under anesthesia. “Andrew is one of hundreds of patients at the center who lack the ability to cooperate for complex dental care in the clinic environment,” Dr. Governale explains. The Center works in partnership with Lee Memorial Health System, which allows access to its operating room and anesthesia team to provide special needs patients with comfortable care under general anesthesia.

During Andrew’s three hour surgery, Dr. Governale was able to address years of serious dental issues, resulting in one extraction and 20 restorations. As the hours stretched on, Melissa was relieved that her son was comfortable, tolerated the procedures well and was able to return home the same day. But it wasn’t until that evening and the days that followed that Melissa would realize the extent of her son’s previous debilitating pain.

In a heartfelt letter to Dr. Governale, Melissa shared, “Although Andrew has extremely limited verbal communication, you cannot imagine how thrilled I was that night when he looked deep into my eyes and said clearly, ‘teeth no hurt.’”

Since his dental surgery, Andrew’s medications have been reduced by an amazing 90 percent, astounding his physicians. These medications included drugs to address behavior, which Melissa now believes was greatly affected by years of constant dental pain.

“It has been a delight getting to know the new Andrew – our family, friends and physicians are overwhelmed with the progress he has made,” Melissa wrote to Dr. Governale. “I am so thankful and sincerely wish every child with special needs could be seen in your wonderful dental clinic.”

More information about Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, its 14 office locations and services, and its many community partnerships can be found at

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