Business owner to live on billboard to raise money for hospital ship

By Ashley Barker 
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published Jan. 16, 2014

A Charleston mother and business owner said she will camp on a billboard near Interstate 526 until she raises enough money to purchase a hospital ship.

Heather Butler, founder of Ship of Smiles Inc., said she received permission from the S. C. Department of Transportation to live on a billboard near the juncture of I-526 and West Montague Avenue.

Heather Butler plans to live on a billboard to raise money to purchase a hospital ship. (Photo provided)
Heather Butler.
(Photo provided)
She plans to move onto the billboard Feb. 14 and stand in front of a sign that reads, “I am not coming down until I raise $800,000.” Butler said she is planning to take a small plywood “house” up onto the billboard, and a few local restaurants, including Chick-fil-A, have agreed to supply her food during the project.

“I’m not the outdoorsy type,” Butler said. “This is something that is close to my heart.”

Butler founded Pediatric Medical Solutions about 15 years ago after her son, who is now 16 years old, was born with a cleft lip and palate. She has since patented medical products for children with cleft lips and palates, such as specialty feeding bottles.

The ship the organization plans to purchase, which is 188 feet long and accommodates up to 82 passengers, will dock at Central American ports to provide health care.

“It’s dangerous, and accommodations aren’t good in places like Haiti,” Butler said. “The ship will have state-of-the-art operating rooms, and surgeons and dentists will volunteer their time.”

Butler said doctors from around the United States have already agreed to spend time on the ship, offering free care to children who need simple surgeries for cleft lip and palate repairs, benign tumor removals and cataract repairs. Children will take priority over adults who need care, she said.

“Unrepaired clefts of children in Third World countries often cause them to be seen as cursed or to be shunned from their community,” Butler said. “A simple surgery is life-changing for these children and allows them to live a normal healthy life.”

Donations to Ship of Smiles, a nonprofit organization, will be used to pay for the ship. Once it is purchased, Butler said she’ll ask hospitals to donate operating equipment, and there will be ongoing fundraisers.

“This is a project I’m starting in Charleston to see what we can do,” Butler said. “We’ll bring the ship here and renovate it before leaving.”

Butler said M&W Outdoor LLC, an outdoor billboard company, is requiring her to sign a waiver of liability prior to moving onto the billboard, and New Life Church of Goose Creek is allowing her to use its billboard space.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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