Heather Glasscock professes to being an adrenaline junkie, seeking adventure through an initial career as a flight attendant, meeting her new skydiving Army husband via Match.com and, earlier this year, launching an ultrasound franchise business called Stork Vision in Columbus.
Her life also has had its share of tough twists and turns. An airplane crash in the Everglades put her ValuJet employer out of business, while the terrorist attacks in 2001 prompted Delta Airlines to cut back flights and lay off flight attendants, including her. Then a hospital system bought out a cardiology practice, with her, one of the physician's cardiac sonographers, among those let go amid the transition in 2009, in the heart of the Great Recession.
"I just hunted and hunted and hunted for a job, and finally another hospital picked me up and I was able to start working there," said Glasscock, 40, a native of Rome, Ga. "I'm resilient. I bounce back from things. I just pick up and go."
Her move to Columbus nearly a year ago, with employment opportunities in her sonography field again few and far between, led to Glasscock researching potential businesses and then settling on Stork Vision, a boutique-like ultrasound franchise she opened in April on Wynnton Road.
She hired two general sonographers to handle ultrasounds for customers using Stork Vision, which offers 3-D and 4-D peeks inside the moms-to-be, putting images on CD and DVD, while offering plush animals with recordings of their baby's heartbeat inside of them, keepsakes that can be sent to grandma in another city or dad stationed overseas.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with Glasscock recently at her office to discuss the job, the business in general, and the moments leading up to yet another transition in her life. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity.
What was your frame of mind early in your life?
Most everybody knew what they wanted to do. They were like, I'm set on this path, I'm going to school, I'm going to do this. When I got into school, I realized that I didn't have this great path. I just knew that I wanted to enjoy life and have fun. And I loved being around people and I love traveling. So, to my parents' dismay, I dropped out of school and went to become a flight attendant.
If not for the setbacks with ValuJet and Delta, you would still be a flight attendant?
I would. I would still be with them. I love travel, and people. You're constantly meeting somebody new with a different story.
And it gave you opportunity for adventure?
My husband now is my second husband, and it's the second marriage for him, too. But I did meet someone while I was flying who was a flight attendant and we got married. We got to travel all over. We worked about 15 days a month and then the other 15 days we would fly for free wherever we wanted to go. I went to Panama City, Panama, and got to see the canal. I've been to Germany. I went to Peru, to Turkey, to Belgium. We did a lot of Mexico ... It was awesome.
How and why did you turn to sonography after the airline layoffs?
The way I figured out what I was going to do, is I had gone home to visit my mom and dad in Rome, and I was flipping through their local newspaper. The local technical college had just started the ultrasound program. I have a nephew who was born with congenital heart disease, so I knew what an echocardiogram was and I thought that sounds really interesting. It was a two-year program and I enrolled and never looked back.
Your nephew's condition was a big factor?
Initially, yes, because of my nephew having heart disease. He's now 18, but he's had four open-heart surgeries starting from the time he was only three months old. And both my mom and dad are in the medical field. My dad's a (physician assistant) and my mom's a nurse. I had always tried to stay away from the medical field because that is what my parents did, but it eventually just seemed natural.
Cardiac sonography was your path? How does it relate to this?
It's ultrasound. When you go to ultrasound school, you specialize. We all have a core component of physics that we have to take. And then you specialize either in cardiac ultrasound, vascular ultrasound or it's called general ultrasound. General ultrasound is where babies fall into place. I went into cardiac because of my nephew and my interest in all that.
When I moved here to Columbus and I couldn't find a job doing cardiac ultrasound, I said, well, I have an ultrasound degree and I'm registered. So when I found this franchise, I knew that it kind of followed my philosophy of ultrasound as a medical procedure, no matter how you spin it, and it required registered sonographers. It just became the apparent choice for me.
This is like settling down for you?
This is. This is big-time settling down for me.
Why the attraction to this franchise?
Stork Vision has been around since 2004. There are 29 of us in 10 different states. It is growing. It's a wonderful franchise. The owner of it is just a dynamo of a lady and has this great team. So it does have security built into it.
I've got a marketing person who creates anything I need. Then I have an IT person that manages my Web page. So I have all of that. They gave us the structure of this and what a business model looks like for us.
When I told them I was at Fort Benning, they were very excited about that ... (A military market) does really, really well because of the turnover of moms. It's the perfect demographic, the age, a younger population and they're having kids, and not usually just one. They're having multiples. And once one mom comes in and has a baby, she leaves and somebody else comes in. It's just always turning over.
How does Stork Vision differ from a traditional ultrasound office?
Those are diagnostic places, like Columbus Regional, anything like that where there's a physician. Usually, those moms are patients and they're giving them diagnostic information. Your baby has 10 toes and 10 fingers and everything looks good and all of that.
When they come to us, we are considered limited diagnostic because we are overseen by a medical director. However, we are not going to give moms any diagnostic information. We just tell them that there's one baby in there and that it's laying in a certain position. We don't say anything about it anatomically.
If you see something not right, do you refer mothers to a physician?
We don't tell mom anything. What we do is call our medical director after mom has left and say, we just saw this, and these are the pictures. We can send him a little report and send him ultrasound pictures. He then can review that because he's a board-certified practicing OB/GYN. Then he contacts the mom's physician or prenatal care provider. So we have medical professional to medical professional contact. Then that person can make the decision of what they need to do with their patient.
Why should someone come here for an ultrasound instead of a competitor?
My hope is that they see the value of our higher safety standards. All of our sonographers are highly qualified and trained. They are either registered or registry eligible. So you'll always have someone who is able to identify if there is something wrong.
Then because we have a medical director that oversees us. So it's just following those better guidelines. It's really important for me, and Stork Vision as a whole, that we let the physicians know that we follow FDA guidelines ... While we believe wholeheartedly that ultrasound is completely safe, there's still a fetus, and ultrasound is still a medical procedure. So we follow what the FDA says. We keep our scan times to under 30 minutes and my machine will be checked once a year by a physicist to make sure it's operating properly.
It's just taking no risks, but still providing mom with this fun, very comfortable experience. That's why we look nothing like a medical office. We smell like baby powder or a nursery. We want to provide them that whole experience of being in a boutique atmosphere.
You're fee-based and don't accept insurance?
You can pick which package you want. There's no insurance. We're fee for service because we are not giving diagnostic information. And I do offer the heartbeat (stuffed) animals, which is a super cool thing. We sell them in all of the Stork Vision stores. We record the baby's heartbeat and put it in an animal. Usually a sibling loves it. On Mother's Day and Father's Day, they were big hits. People were sending them to grandmothers who lived out of state. If a husband or dad is deployed, we can record the baby's heartbeat and they can send it to them. It's kind of a neat little keepsake.
So the atmosphere, in essence, is warm and fuzzy?
When people come in here, that's what they always say, is that it feels so comfortable and inviting. We even want it to smell like they've just walked into their baby's nursery. We want to make sure they're comfortable with the room, and having comfortable couches for everybody to sit on, with a comfortable table for mom with plush pillows. And we have the big TV so that everybody can see. What plays on the ultrasound machine back there plays on the TV monitor in that room and on this (waiting room) monitor at the same time. If they bring 12 or 15 people at the same time, everybody gets to see it. We want to include the family.
What about scheduling customer appointments?
I try to schedule my customers about an hour apart, so that when they're here they kind of have the whole office to themselves. It makes it very personal, very intimate.
Sometimes for a lot of moms it can be a bonding experience. I had a lady call me one day and she was making and appointment and buying a package for her sister, who had gotten pregnant. I think that something had happened with the father and he wasn't in the picture and she was not really happy about being pregnant. The sister called and said I need her to bond with this baby. She needs to be excited about being a mom.
By the time she left, after seeing her baby, she was so excited and was trying to pick out names and was ready to go clothes shopping. So it can really be a bonding experience for parents to actually see their baby and to hear that heartbeat.
You capture images of the babies and record them in 3-D and 4-D?
Anything they see on the screen while we're doing the ultrasound. If the baby's yawning, sucking a thumb or kicking legs all over the place, we catch it all on DVD so that they have it for the rest of their lives.
3-D is technology that shows you the round fat cheeks, and it's kind of the yellow sepia color. With 4-D we add movement to that. So you can see the baby smile, you can see the baby stick their tongue out or open their eyes, some really cute stuff.
What are the challenges of your work?
Number one is getting my name out there. And number two is not just for people to know about me, but to know the difference in what we offer and why we're different from out competitors.
But overall, I've worked for other people all of my life, and now I'm a business owner. I texted a friend yesterday and said it's like having a kid. And not just a kid, but a toddler I would say. I don't even get private bathroom moments anymore because my work phone is a cellphone ... But at the same time I always have my work cellphone with me everywhere I go. I don't want to miss a single call. Because if I miss a call, they're calling my competitors and I'll never hear from them again.
Why is it important to have the support of a franchise company?
So I don't feel like I'm alone. I think I would be really terrified if I had done this from scratch. I think I would feel like I was in a pool drowning.
But the flexibility of it is wonderful. I love walking in here. I see God's miracle every single day when I look inside a mom's belly and I see a baby there. And people come and see me and they're happy. They're not (medical) patients and nervous or scared.
With cardiac ultrasound, everyone I saw was someone who was sick. You don't do an ultrasound on somebody's heart because they're just curious to see what it looks like. It's because something is wrong.
With this, I get to come into work in a comfortable environment, not a hospital, and I get to see happy people all day long. They're crying (tears of joy) and they're excited. It's special.
Name: Heather Glasscock
Hometown: Rome, Ga.
Current Residence: Columbus
Education: 1993 graduate of Pepperell High School in Lindale, Ga.; attended Jacksonville State University (left school to become a flight attendant and travel); earned associate's applied science degree in echocardiography from Georgia Northwestern Technical College in 2006; professional certification through American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers; registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer since 2006
Previous jobs: Lung cancer program coordinator at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute in Atlanta; supervisor and technical director of echocardiography lab at Northside Hospital in Atlanta; cardiac sonographer at several places; flight attendant with Delta Air Lines and the former ValuJet Airlines
Family: Husband, Larry Glasscock, a retired U.S. Army officer and "bonus daughters" by marriage -- Emily, 15, Kathryn, 13, and Kylie, 9; and two pets, Charlie and Rosie
Leisure time: Enjoys traveling, reading, listening to music, cooking, wakeboarding, being on the lake, visiting the beach as often as possible, and spending time with family and friends
Of note: Hosted six foreign exchange students while in middle and high school. That is where her love for travel came from, leading to a career as a flight attendant. Her first international flight at age 18 -- and by herself -- was to Australia to visit a former exchange student; her first date with her husband, Larry, was tandem skydiving. He was a tandem skydiving instructor and wanted to make a good impression. She told him if they survived, he had won major points. They did and were married this past Dec. 31