Atlanta, GA,
08:57 AM

Celebrating Roots — and Wings

An exquisite addition to the beloved Anna and Hays Mershon Secret Garden shows how Shepherd will continue celebrating its culture of hope, humor, and hard work as it grows and plans for the future.

As a trademark space on Shepherd Center’s existing campus for years, the Anna and Hays Mershon Secret Garden has been a refuge for patients and families. It boasts unique artwork, lush greenery, and a serene environment tucked away from the outside world, even while facing one of Atlanta’s busiest – and most iconic – streets.  

Mary and Eric Busko spent many days in the Secret Garden in 2021 as Mary recovered from a stroke at Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program. Mary loved the outdoors and always looked forward to spending time with her husband in the garden or waving to their children, Mae and Harper, on the other side of the fence while COVID restrictions limited visitation.

In these quiet moments, Eric got the perfect idea for a 22nd-anniversary gift for Mary: a new Secret Garden gate to show their love and appreciation for each other and Shepherd Center staff.

The Buskos didn’t take anniversaries lightly. Eric and Mary celebrated each anniversary with a themed gift crafted from metal by their family friend, Andrew Crawford of Andrew T. Crawford Ironworks. For example, on their 12th anniversary, also known as the “silk anniversary,” Eric gave Mary a handmade metal hook shaped in the number 12 with some of their favorite sayings engraved on it. The hook was adorned with a silk robe.

The Busko household overflowed with love. Eric and Mary would hide notes with words of encouragement, love, and gratitude for each other around the house. Remarkably, the day after Mary’s stroke, when Eric finally returned home from the hospital, he found Mary had placed a new note for him in a drawer. That note read, “I love you, Eric. Everything will be all right. God has you in his arms. - Love, Mary.” Mary’s note carried Eric through the rough months ahead, leading to the exact moment he dreamed of a gate to show his gratitude.

Eric took his idea to Andrew, and the two designed the gate with details curated for Mary. One of the most notable is twenty-two cardinals, representing each year of the Busko’s marriage, complete with engravings of “ISDLY,” meaning “I sure do love you,” and “You Are My Sunshine.” Unfortunately, before the gate was finished, Mary passed away at age 52 due to complications from her stroke.

Mary’s personality was effervescent. She was creative, kind, humorous, and selfless. That warmth shined through to her care team during her time at Shepherd Center.

“Mary was an absolute delight to work with! Her thoughtfulness and compassion were evident in that she would always thank the staff for their care, ask about the wellbeing of her family, and counter questions about her own needs with what she could do for you,” says Alexes Venuti, M.A., CCC-SLP, Mary’s speech-language pathologist. “She was witty, offering dry, humorous remarks with a smirk and a twinkle in her eye. Mary was a fighter—she never quit and approached everything we asked her to do with grit and determination.”

Determined to express gratitude to the dedicated staff at Shepherd Center and honor Mary’s memory, Eric worked with Andrew to finish the gift he had planned for his wife. The gate was installed on October 7, 2022, bringing new energy to the Anna and Hays Mershon Secret Garden.

“I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to express my gratitude to Shepherd in such a tangible way,” says Eric.  “I love that Mary will be associated with such a meaningful and uplifting piece of art. The gate is unique. It’s beautiful. It’s funky yet also elegant. It’s impactful but not overstated. It’s meaningful in many ways, and it’s bound to bring joy to people. Every single one of those things can be said about Mary. My hope is the gate brings joy and inspiration to patients and employees for many decades.”

This tribute to Mary’s legacy doubles as a beautiful symbol of Shepherd Center’s culture of hard work, humor, and hope. In a time of growth and change for Shepherd Center with the launch of its Pursuing Possible campaign, this gift to the beloved Secret Garden is a reminder of how that culture will endure, even as the hospital expands to deliver unmatched care to more patients.

Written by Lindsey Rieben

Pursuing Possible with Shepherd Center

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About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.