Sunday Conversation with Dr. Gary Stewart

Giving back is a longstanding family tradition, Dr. Gary Stewart explains, one that the Henry County orthopedic surgeon is keeping and passing down to his children, Ellis, 9, and Reina, 6. His wife, Africa, an obstetrician, also works with Doctors Without Borders. Last week, with his kids in tow, Stewart, who specializes in feet and ankles, offered foot care to men staying in a downtown Atlanta shelter. Now, he is the in middle of a coat and blanket drive that he organizes every year at his work, Resurgens Orthopaedics. The drive benefits Haven House, a Henry County shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. “If you have done some charity work and it is easy,” Stewart said, “then maybe you aren’t giving enough.”

Q: How did you get so involved in charity work?

A: My parents did a lot and I have tried to take the baton from them. I got started with “Our Hearts to Your Soles” with the director of my surgical fellowship in Pittsburgh. The idea is to provide foot exams at different sites across the country around Thanksgiving. I brought it to Atlanta and we do it every year at the Central Night Shelter in downtown Atlanta. We also partner with another organization, Soles4Souls, to provide free shoes.

Q: Why is that important to do?

A: Many of the people I treat in the shelter are the working poor and it is very important for them to have good feet and good shoes. Many do a lot of walking and have shoes of poor quality. They wear whatever they can get. A lot of the shoes are ill-fitting and can cause fungus and stress fractures. The ability to give people an exam and good shoewear is very important so they can stay healthy and continue to keep their jobs.

Q; And now the coat drive?

A: One day about seven years ago, I was driving to work on a cold day and saw a kid outside at the bus stop with no coat on, for whatever reason. There are a ton of cold spells here that even seem to rival where I am from in New Jersey. That got me to thinking about those who may not have a coat or a blanket. We started really small, with our Orthopaedic South Surgical Center in Morrow. Now, all 21 of our metro Atlanta offices are taking part. We donate the coats and blankets to Haven House, which serves battered women and children and is one of my favorite charities.

Q: What is so special about it?

A: Abused women and children have been in the news because of what is happening in sports right now. Otherwise, no one thinks of them. They often are in danger and have to leave their situations with just the clothes on their back. Friends and family members of mine who have been in that situation talk about how people almost blame them. Haven House does such a good job with this population and some of the people who run it have been my patients. I appreciate what they do and the urgency in which they do it.

Q: Do you only take coats and blankets?

A: If someone drops off a sweater, we won’t turn it down but it really is a coat and blanket drive. Last year, we had a nice lady knit us about 20 quilts. We get these coats and blankets and then they are gone. There is such a need for them and we don’t worry about getting too many. Whatever Haven House doesn’t need, they will disperse across other shelters.

Q: You are a busy man. How do you find time?

A: Everybody is busy. We are all Americans and I think we all need to do our part. I have tried to instill that in my kids. They come to the shoe event with me. They give their old coats. You learn by doing.

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