When Sacred Heart Hospital System began its purple-ribbon campaign in 2000 to build a small 50-bed hospital on the Gulf Coast, its plans did not include a birthing wing.

"Everyone thought this was just a retirement community and there was no plan for a birthing wing," said Roger Hall, president of Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast.

However, the face of South Walton was changing and as the area was experiencing growth, many of those moving here were young adults wanting to start a family. Those young transplants were asking why they needed to travel to a neighboring county to give birth.

"People were asking for it," said Hall. "People didn't feel needs were being met, so we started looking at it."

Sacred Heart listened, began investigating and saw there was a need.

"We literally went to three of the largest hospitals in the Southeast that had the best reputation to see how they did it. We even looked at the best colors to use," said Hall.

The project would cost $21 million, but the community raised $5 million to show their support.

Sacred Heart on the Emerald Coast's Family Birth Place opened in September 2007, four-and-a-half years after the opening of the main hospital. There were 200 births that year, with the first taking place on Sept. 4, 2007.

Ten years later, the hospital assists in 1,300 deliveries annually for a total of 8,500 births in 10 years. More than 50 percent of births in Okaloosa and Walton counties take place at Sacred Heart.

Hall said he thinks the reason expectant moms choose Sacred Heart over other hospitals is because of Sacred Heart's focus.

"I believed that if we built it and provided exceptional service they would come, and we have tried to do that," said Hall. "We have wonderful obstetricians, a great facility, and our focus is on education and giving families a great birthing experience. We focus on breast feeding, and how to take care of the baby. The baby's first bath can be given by its mom and dad for bonding. There's a lot we do to make sure there is that bonding. The day my daughter was born is etched in my memory forever. That's my wish for all new parents -- that it would be a great bonding experience."

The Family Birth Place now has a Neonatal Critical Care Transport Unit to provide rapid transfer of premature or critically ill newborns to The Children's Hospital in Pensacola if needed.

Future plans include building a 10-bed level II NICU to provide personalized care for babies that need special medical attention. Advanced NICU care will include short-term respiratory ventilation, oxygen therapy and IV nutrition. The NICU team will include board-certified neonatologists, neonatal nurses, developmental specialists, and therapists.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Family Birth Place at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast is hosting a special birthday celebration on Sept. 16 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. across from the entrance of the Family Birth Place. The community, SHHEC associates, family and friends of babies born at the Family Birth Place are invited. One of those in attendance will be the first baby born at the Birthing Place -- Zoie Ann Pierce, who was delivered by Dr. Jennifer Esses.

For more information call 278-3600 or visit www.sacredheartemerald.org.