When Priscilla O’Donnell and Karen Kogon met, they were at Providence Hill Farm, riding their horses, a pastime they both love.

Now, with a new seven-story children’s tower under construction beside Batson Children’s Hospital, the two have something else in common: Concern for critically ill children born with congenital heart disease.

Karen is married to Dr. Brian Kogon, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Batson since 2017, and Priscilla and her husband, Dave O’Donnell, donated $1 million to create the Priscilla and David O’Donnell Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Cardiac Wing in the new tower.

“Priscilla was one of the first people I met when we moved,” Karen Kogon said of her friend, a Ridgeland resident. “There is a warm, welcoming and endearing quality that horse lovers possess. Priscilla has all those qualities.”

Once the Kogons settled into their Northeast Jackson home, the couples became friends. “We have a great group of mutual friends who we enjoy spending time with inside and outside of the barn,” Karen said. “Both Dave and Priscilla are very sweet and laid-back people who are just very easy to be in the company of.”

“Our love of horses and enjoyment of show competition in the hunter/jumper world is our common bond and is how we became friends,” said Priscilla, “and we love our time together.”

One might think the couples’ friendship influenced the O’Donnells’ philanthropy. And Dave, with his project management background and his career as executive vice president of the Bowers Group, a mechanical contracting firm in Washington, D.C., might have been interested in the building process. Instead, it was taking a tour of Batson, the state’s only children’s hospital, which captured their thoughts. “We took a look around,” Dave said, “and that did it.”


Inside the hospital is a pediatric intensive care unit that provides compassionate care despite it having been outgrown and a neonatal intensive care unit built for 30 babies that cares for three times that number. Surgical space is short, and imaging is a quarter of a mile away in the adult hospital.

Seeing the needs, the O’Donnells, who together have five daughters ages 20-29, made the commitment to helping other children and families. “We had that connection,” Priscilla said, “and it made sense to honor a wing in Brian Kogon’s area.” “This gift will make an enormous difference in the health of our most critically ill cardiac patients,” said Dr. Kogon. “We are so grateful for this gift and for the O’Donnells’ concern for our patients’ care, and it is even more special that it comes from close friends.”

The new PICU will be located on the west side of the new Children’s of Mississippi tower. There will be 12 dedicated cardiac beds where medical and surgical (including pre- and post-operative) care for children with congenital heart defects will be managed. The new children’s tower will include 88 private NICU rooms, along with additional PICU space, 12 more operating rooms, an imaging center designed for children and a pediatric outpatient specialty clinic. The Children’s Heart Center, the only pediatric cardiology program in the state, will also have its own space as part of the project.


Ground was broken December 1 on the 340,000-square-foot facility, which is set to open in fall 2020.

Children’s of Mississippi is an umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital as well as all UMMC pediatric care. The direct economic impact is estimated at nearly $349 million for fiscal year 2018. That includes 3,926 full- and part-time jobs and nearly $185 million in payroll. State appropriations for FY 2018 are expected to be about $19 million. By FY 2022, that economic impact is projected to be $371 million, and 4,162 jobs generated in the state, but state appropriations are only expected to rise to $20 million. Those figures don’t include the construction of the new tower, a $180 million project that will involve about 40 contractors and more than 700 workers over the course of construction.

“This tower will help bring about a transformation in children’s health care in Mississippi,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “It will provide space where the state’s smallest and at-risk babies can have their families close by, where children can get life-saving surgery and where they can get imaging and specialty care designed just for them.

“While this project, as well as Children’s of Mississippi as a whole, is making a huge economic impact,” Woodward said, “its real importance is in the lives it will touch.” The majority of the tower’s cost – $100 million – is being paid for through private donations.

Launched in 2016, the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi is led by co-chairs Joe Sanderson Jr., CEO and chairman of the board of Sanderson Farms, and his wife, Kathy. The couple started the philanthropic drive to help pay for the tower’s construction with a personal gift of $10 million.


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