A President's Perspective – February 2022

Dear MUSC family,

Last week, we were grateful to have White House Director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Rahul Gupta, M.D., visit MUSC and offer his commentary during the annual MUSC Health Policy Symposium. As a practicing physician, state and local leader, educator and senior leader of a national nonprofit organization, Gupta has dedicated his career to improving public health and public safety. The ONDCP coordinates the nation’s $40 billion drug budget and federal policies, including prevention, harm reduction, treatment, recovery support and supply reduction.

The opioid crisis in South Carolina has reached dire proportions, and this event, led by Charleston’s Addiction Crisis Task (ACT) Force, was part of a communitywide “call to action” to address the overdose epidemic. ACT Force is supported by MUSC and other experts, including U.S. District Judge Bruce Hendricks and the prior director of the ONDCP, Gil Kerlikowske, both of whom co-hosted the Feb. 23 symposium.

By bringing together this brain trust from a variety of fields and disciplines, from public health and addiction experts to law enforcement and judicial system leaders, we have the capability to make meaningful and sustainable changes in addressing this issue to reduce the number of overdose deaths going forward, which climbed to record levels during the pandemic, and prevent opioid addiction.

Gupta said it well in a January official White House statement related to the unveiling of the CDC’s overdose death data report: “Behind these numbers are family members, friends and neighbors whose lives have been claimed by an overdose epidemic being driven by fentanyl. We must meet this moment with the urgency it deserves by working together at the federal, state and local levels to quickly expand access to evidence-based harm reduction services like fentanyl test stripes, naloxone and syringe services programs, and remove barriers to treatment, prevention and recovery support services.”

Another recent development related to addressing a major public health issue involves a new hospital-based violence prevention program at MUSC Health called “Turning the Tide,” led by medical director and trauma surgeon Ashley Hink, M.D., and MUSC team members Keith Smalls, Donnie Singleton and Ronald Dickerson, Ph.D. The program aims to reduce revictimization and improve outcomes for young survivors of gun violence. The program recently received an almost $1 million three-year grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention within the U.S. Department of Justice to implement a collaboration with Youth Advocate Programs Inc., which has a longstanding history of working with high-risk youth and their families. I encourage you to read more about this new initiative, called Lowcountry Rising Above Violence.

As you can see from these two examples, MUSC is collaborating in new and exciting ways to have a positive and sustainable impact on these pervasive causes of injury and death across South Carolina.

Yours in service,

David J. Cole, M.D., FACS
MUSC President

Respect in Action: Black History Month

As we close out February and the annual celebration of Black History month, I hope that you were able to spend some time reflecting on this year’s national theme: “Black Health and Wellness.”

The timing for this topic couldn’t be more apropos given our bold goals related to elevating health and wellness and eliminating health disparities for all underrepresented minorities and vulnerable populations in our state. In addition to the high-quality, thought-provoking learning sessions offered throughout this month, our teams worked to celebrate the accomplishments of MUSC’s Black faculty, colleagues, care team members, students and employees through advertising placements across the state.

To learn more about Black History Month in our country, you might consider this quick read from NPR, and to learn more about Black history at MUSC, I encourage you to visit here.

Cut to the Chase

My most recent blog post serves as reflection on the intersection of where we are as a state in terms of health care, where we need to go and how we are going to get there. Previous posts align with the thoughts presented in this new piece, so it may be helpful to review some of those as well. If you are interested in suggesting a topic for possible inclusion in a future blog, please email me at president-com@musc.edu.

Giving with Purpose

An inspiring young lady is on a mission to bring an upright MRI scanner to MUSC. Sydney Severance, daughter of MUSC Health team member Matt Severance, started Operation Upright, a fundraiser with a goal of $1.2 million, the estimated cost of an upright MRI. If Sydney raises $600,000, an anonymous donor will generously match it! So far, she has raised more than $208,000, putting her a third of the way to her goal. Sydney was inspired to start Operation Upright because of her own health journey. In 2020, she began suffering headaches, nausea and pain so intense that she was confined to her bed or a wheelchair. Her MUSC neurologist had a tentative diagnosis but could not confirm or treat it without scans from an upright MRI, which she finally was able to receive in Baltimore. The scans confirmed her diagnosis and gave her hope for healing.

Sydney’s selfless dedication and determination to prevent for others the suffering she has endured is inspirational, and, I think, challenges each of us to lean into ways we can push through when times are hard to create a better future for all. Learn more about Sydney’s journey on her fundraising team page.

From Kathy

In the January newsletter, Dave mentioned the project that photojournalist-turned-registered nurse Alan Hawes has worked on at MUSC. In addition to his story and moving photographs that were featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Jan. 5, Hawes’ work was also covered powerfully by CBS Mornings and other local and national outlets across the country. Since that time, the story of his work has spread throughout numerous social media platforms, and in early February, he was featured as a “Nurse of the Week.”

On Saturday, March 5, from 3:00 until 4:00 p.m., the main Charleston County library will host a free program with Alan and unveil a gallery exhibit in the library. The gallery includes photographs from both the Delta and Omicron surges, and the plan is for the photo display to travel to different library branches over the next few months.

Like so many nurses and others who watched the CBS piece, heard the NPR story or read about this project through social media, I was reminded of the great sacrifices, emotional burden and more that our nursing team and all care providers have been through these past two years. What brought tears to my eyes was the incredible empathy and understanding that Alan and so many of his colleagues are still able to tap, daily, to do what they do best – care for others. To all my fellow nurses and caregivers out there… there will never be enough thank-you’s for all that you’ve given, but please know this: We see you, and we are so very proud of you.


Neuro Rehab: MUSC Health and the College of Health Professions partner on a comprehensive outpatient rehab facility for neurological conditions.

Contact Tracing App: Researchers publish a roadmap for rolling out a COVID-19 exposure notification mobile app at a large public university in South Carolina.

Beyond Emergency Surgery: “It was a miracle to get him into the hands of people who really could perform a miracle,” says a grateful mom.

Pharmacy Milestone:
Pharmacy students, faculty and alumni celebrate “topping out” of new facility in central location at MUSC.

Sickle Cell Center: Rena N. Grant Sickle Cell Center at MUSC honors inspiring woman as it tackles ambitious goals.

Space Eyes: The longer astronauts stay in space, the more they report blurry vision and eyesight problems when they return to Earth. But why?

Cancer Prevention: The HPV vaccine helps to prevent six HPV-related cancers. With Hollings’ HPV vaccination van, the vaccine will be taken to medically underserved communities.

Potent Peptide: MUSC research team has identified a pathway by which a known antifibrotic protein works, providing a possible clinical solution for patients with fibrosis.