Dr. Cheryl Perkins didn’t start out wanting to be a pediatrician.
Born in Greeley, Colorado, she moved to Atlanta in the early 1970s and later attended Berry College, planning to obtain a degree in oceanography. But she also loved nutrition and biology, so she decided a transfer to the University of Georgia was in order. She changed to pre-med, and graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology.
Perkins then went on to the Medical College of Georgia, where she finished medical school in 1986. She had originally planned to go into obstetrics, since she had an interest in newborns, but from the prenatal perspective.
But when she rotated through the various specialties as a third-year medical student, she found her calling.
“I fell in love with the pediatricians, because they all seemed to have so much more fun with their patients. Although I really had no experience with taking care of children and had never been around young children other than my younger siblings, I was drawn to the children,” she said. “Seeing the love and joy that children bring to a family, as well as everyone taking care of them, gaining the understanding of the beautiful way that children develop, made me want to share that understanding with families. I wanted to see the kids day in and day out, and watch them grow up through sickness and health, and help families truly enjoy these little beings.”
After her residency, Perkins moved to California, where she worked in a specialty clinic. She says her time there was a great experience. She even met her first husband there, but she wanted to be closer to her family in Georgia, so they moved to Waycross in 1993.
Perkins’ husband at the time was a neurologist who was recruited by Satilla Hospital to start his solo practice, and she took over a solo pediatric practice.
“My first husband was a gifted neurologist, and his patients loved him, but he struggled with alcohol addiction. He was a wonderful person until he was drunk. I wanted to learn how to live with his disease and found a wonderful family through AL-Anon and Al-Anon is where I first developed a relationship with God, whose grace has been enriching my life every day since then. We have a son, Conor, and although we had a strong marriage with AA as our hub, we ultimately divorced in 1998,” Perkins said.
She closed her practice when Swaroop Reddy asked her to join his practice in Statesboro, moving her to the Boro in 2002.
“During this time, I recognized God had gifted me with a calming demeanor to ease a family’s stress and empower the families to manage the problem after they leave the office. I knew I needed to open my own practice that would reflect the overall sense of being a home, so I founded Bulloch Pediatrics. I asked the young Dr. Austin Whitlock, a Statesboro native who just finished his chief residency, to join me and we opened the practice in 2006,” she said.
Perkins says the practice has had its ups and downs, turnovers and changes in staff, but overall, it’s a family.
“We have been blessed by wonderful staff, many of whom have been with us for years. My staff greets the patients as they walk through the office and we get to know the entire family: moms, dads, grandparents. I have been in practice long enough to see some of my first patients grow up and have their own family and we are still a part of their lives,” she said.
After Perkins moved to the Boro, she says she met and fell in love with “local boy” Steve Sanders, and thought he was so wonderful that she married him.
“We brought two families together and have been delightfully married now for 18 years,” she said.
The couple’s kids, Alyssa, Meg and Conor, are now grow and scattered all over the country. Perkins’ parents are in Pensacola, Florida, and her siblings are in Canada and Utah. Steve’s brothers are “spread out from Covington to California.”
The couple has found a church home at Compassion Church.
Perkins says that Al-Anon gave her an understanding and compassion for those who struggle with addiction. Her son is a first-responder, and she says through his work, and her ex-husband’s interest in pain management, she found herself drawn toward helping people with addiction and chronic pain.
She has studied medical acupuncture through the Helms Medical Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine. The institute has an ACUS Foundation, which helps train physicians in acupuncture to help those who have chronic pain syndromes from battle injuries, with the goal of helping them to get off their pain medications. She also works with local in-patient addiction treatment facility Willingway.
When she’s not working, Perkins and her husband enjoy volunteering with The KT Team, a local Christian nonprofit that takes physically-challenged individuals on excursions for hunting and fishing to enable them to continue to enjoy the outdoors.
As she considers being chosen as the Most Outstanding Pediatrician in the Boro, Perkins is humbled.
“To be honest, I just enjoy doing what I do, one-on-one with the parents and have never been one for special recognition,” she said.