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St. Francis Hospital's first baby turns 25

Photos show Joanne Atkerson with her son, Blake, the first baby born 25 years ago at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. Blake will graduate from law school this year. - Courtesy photos
Photos show Joanne Atkerson with her son, Blake, the first baby born 25 years ago at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. Blake will graduate from law school this year.
— image credit: Courtesy photos

Courtesy of Franciscan Health System:

St. Francis Hospital’s 25th anniversary holds special significance for Joanne Atkerson.

At 4:33 a.m. on May 7, 1987, her son Blake was bestowed with the honor of being the first baby born at St. Francis in Federal Way, weighing 8 pounds and measuring 21 inches.

“The whole experience was like a fantasy,” said Joanne Atkerson, fondly remembering the day. With her due date still a week off, Joanne hadn’t expected to be the one out of a dozen expectant mothers to deliver the hospital’s first baby.

“Because Blake was the first baby born, we won a number of prizes, including a limousine ride home, diapers for a year, free formula, a crib mattress, clothes … there was so much. We donated some of the prizes to needy families in the area because we already had some of the items.”

Catching up with Blake

“I ran track in high school and did fairly well,” Blake recalled with a laugh. “I’ve always thought it was an analogy about me that I always work hard to be the first.”

St. Francis has much to be proud of in its First Baby. The Atkerson family lived in the area until Blake was six. When his parents separated, Blake and his mom, Joanne, moved to California. When Blake graduated from high school, he was named Most Outstanding Teen.

This year, 25 years after his auspicious start at St. Francis, he will graduate from the University of California Hastings College of Law.

“I have focused my attention on health law issues,” said Blake, who was inspired by his own health care experience.

During his junior year in college, Blake hit his head and suffered a brain injury. After five days in ICU, the bleeding stopped, but his doctors predicted he would have learning disabilities and wouldn’t finish college. Instead, he went on to graduate with honors and continue on to law school.

“During my first year of law school, I realized how little courts understood about how doctors make decisions, how hospitals are run, and the role of scientific data,” he said. “It’s an attorney’s job to help them understand.”

Fond memories at St. Francis

Although they lived in the area for only a short time, Joanne’s experience at St. Francis left a positive effect on the proud mom.

“Everyone was incredible. It was the launching of the birthing suites, and they were like hotel rooms. It made it so special, even more so because this was my first and only child," she said. “After I had Blake I wanted to give back, and did volunteer work at St. Francis for a couple of years at the hospital’s gift shop."

The family also attended many of the events hosted by the new hospital, including barbecues and annual Easter egg hunts. Joanne also encouraged Blake to become involved in volunteering at a young age. He helped out at senior centers and made soup for those less fortunate.

“He has a heart of gold, and understands the value of giving to others,” she said.

And what does Blake think about being the first baby born at St. Francis?

“More props go to my mom,” he laughed. “Someone else was in labor at the time, but I was first. I’m still grateful to my mom, first for going through labor pains to have me and then never leaving my side after that. I’ve done a lot in a quarter century, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her getting me here.”

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(Note: St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, which is part of the non-profit Franciscan Health System, opened on May 6, 1987. St. Francis was the first and remains the only hospital in Federal Way, and now has more than 1,000 employees. To learn more, click here.)

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