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Annual fundraiser a boon for hospital

DACULA - It took a life-rattling tragedy to open Judy Burke's eyes to the good doings of Shriners Hospital for Children.

Ever since, she's taken a great deal of her time to assist the hospital in any way possible.

In March 2002, Burke's 1-year-old granddaughter, Leah McCammon, was scalded so badly in her grandparents' bathtub she later died at a Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati.

Burke had left the child alone for only a couple minutes to take a phone call. In her absence, Leah accidentally and fully turned on water hot enough to cause third-degree burns over most her body.

For four days, Burke watched as doctors at Shriners tried to sustain the infant's life, eventually failing.

The effort hasn't been forgotten.

On Saturday, Burke and her husband will continue their efforts to channel funding to the hospitals famed for helping kids with burn and orthopedic needs.

For the fourth year running, they'll put on "Fun Fest," a carnival-like, kid-friendly fundraiser featuring pony rides, clowns, hay rides and games. It kicks off at 10 a.m. in the parking lot of the Ingles in Dacula.

Burke, who originated the festival while president of the Gwinnett Shrine Clubs, said it raised more than $3,000 last year for the hospital, up from $1,000 two years prior. Organizers want to keep that momentum going.

And Burke hopes Fun Fest proves that Shriners are more than red fezzes and goofy parade antics.

"I don't think a lot of people know about what Shriners do," she said. "This is going to educate them."

An additional draw for parents should be on-hand representatives of the Georgia Child Identification Program, or CHIPS, who'll discuss the popular child-safety program, Burke said.

In the years since Leah's death, Burke and her husband, Richard, have pulled together about $1.5 million for Shriners Hospitals, mostly through golf tournaments. A plaque at the Cincinnati hospital bears Leah's name, she said.

But more than financial good has come from the infant's untimely death.

Inspired by Leah's tragedy, manufacturers in recent years have introduced the Hot Stop, an anti-scald shower head meant to protect infant and elderly bathers.

"It took me a very long time to be able to talk about it," Burke said. "You sometimes wonder why God would let something happen to this little baby, but we've seen wondrous things happen over these last six years.

"We feel that was her cause in life."

SideBar: If You Go

What: Fun Fest, a Shriners Hospital for Children benefit

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Ingles Dacula (Ga. Highway 324 and Dacula Road)

For more information: Call organizers at 770-945-4155 or e-mail funfest@gwinnettshrineclub.org