Former professional basketball player makes a slam dunk for home team

July 29, 2021
Tobacco treatment specialist Demetress Adams-Ludd
Former pro basketball player Demetress Adams-Ludd now puts the crossover on cancer as a tobacco treatment specialist in the PeeDee region of South Carolina. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Demetress Adams-Ludd excels when the pressure is on and it’s up to her to make the big shot. The 6-foot-2 former University of South Carolina basketball standout went on to play basketball professionally in Spain and France. These days, her opponent isn’t on the court — she dedicates her time helping people to quit smoking. Adams-Ludd serves as a tobacco treatment specialist and experienced licensed master social worker, providing potentially lifesaving resources and education in some of the most medically underserved communities in South Carolina — the same communities she grew up in.

“I was raised in Lee County, South Carolina,” she said. “I understand the culture and the people here because I come from these areas. Being able to help my community has been incredible.”

Adams-Ludd is part of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MUSC Health Florence Medical Center and MUSC Health Marion Medical Center. The program, which initially launched at MUSC Health-Charleston Division in 2014, was expanded to MUSC Health’s regional hospitals in Florence, Marion, Lancaster and Chester earlier this year. Its goal is to provide critical tobacco treatment efforts in communities where the smoking rates for hospitalized patients are more than double that of MUSC Health in Charleston.

“This area has major tobacco farms that are still around,” Adams-Ludd said. “A lot of the patients I’ve spoken to have grown up smoking since they were 9 years old because they were working in those fields.”

She admits that convincing a patient to quit smoking can be difficult, but oftentimes, the help is welcomed. That is what other counselors involved with the inpatient program at MUSC Health have also found. Previous research on the smoking cessation efforts at MUSC Health shows 85% of patients accept the help.

For Adams-Ludd, she uses her sports background to help to break the ice. “I can start any conversation by talking about sports.”

Tobacco treatment specialist Demetress Adams-Ludd 
Tobacco treatment specialist Demetress Adams-Ludd is on the ball when it comes to taking on cancer. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Basketball taught her resilience and the importance of hard work. She said she carries these same lessons with her as she meets with patients.

“As a professional, it is easy for me to see a challenging task or enormous workload and not lose sight of the end goal,” she said. “My mindset was shaped long ago to simply put my head down and work. That’s what I do now and what I will always do.”

As a tobacco treatment specialist, Adams-Ludd meets with hospitalized patients who have been identified as smokers. She educates them about the benefits of quitting smoking and the resources available to help and assists the patient in getting medication to overcome nicotine urges.

Previous research on MUSC’s Tobacco Treatment Program has shown that patients exposed to the program are roughly 2.5 times more likely to use Food and Drug Administration-approved medications to stop smoking and twice as likely to quit smoking for at least a month. The program also increased post-discharge nonsmoking rates from 10% to 20%.

Rami Zebian 
Rami Zebian, M.D., chief medical officer for MUSC Health Florence Medical Center. Photo provided

Since launching in MUSC Health’s regional hospitals several months ago, the program has caught on with patients and doctors, Adams-Ludd explained.

“The doctors are seeing my notes. They are hearing my conversations with the patients who are happy to have the services,” Adams-Ludd added. “It makes it a lot easier for doctors to know that this is something they should just put in their day-to-day schedules when they are seeing patients.”

Hiring the right tobacco treatment specialist to launch the program in more rural areas was critical, said Benjamin Toll, Ph.D., director of the Tobacco Treatment Program. He said they wanted to hire people who grew up in the areas where they would serve to connect with patients more effectively.

“It’s always extremely gratifying when our patients quit smoking,” Toll said. “Tobacco treatment takes a thick skin because there is a lot of relapse among the patients we serve. It’s a continual climb up a mountain, and there will be slips and falls, but I encourage my patients to keep climbing that mountain.”

Toll said that since expanding the program to regional hospitals, he has been blown away by the support from administrators, faculty and medical staff, including Rami Zebian, M.D., chief medical officer for MUSC Health Florence Medical Center.

Dr. Edward McCutcheon 
Edward McCutcheon, M.D., chief medical officer for MUSC Health Lancaster Medical Center and MUSC Health Chester Medical Center. Photo provided

“Having a tobacco treatment specialist here sends a great message to patients that we aren’t just treating them while they are in the hospital, but that we care for them even after they’ve been discharged,” Zebian said.

Edward McCutcheon, M.D., chief medical officer for MUSC Health Lancaster Medical Center and MUSC Health Chester Medical Center, said that the tobacco treatment program is enhancing the lung cancer screening program they already have in place.

“Given the high numbers of smokers in our area, and the medical consequences of smoking, we feel that this program is vital to the public health initiative to care for the community, and offering this will definitely make an impact on the ability to help patients who are smokers,” McCutcheon said.

That’s what Bridget Harris, who has a master’s degree in social work and serves as a certified tobacco treatment specialist at MUSC Health Lancaster and Chester medical centers, has found. Her passion for smoking cessation stems from helping those patients who are most in need.

“Nicotine has been something that has always been prevalent in this area,” Harris said. “These communities haven’t had a lot of education or information about its harmful effects. By me being here, I think it is really a lightbulb moment for folks to improve their lives.”

Tobacco treatment specialist Bridget Harris 
Bridget Harris serves as a certified tobacco treatment specialist at MUSC Health Lancaster and Chester medical centers. Photo provided

Working in the rural community isn’t something new for Harris — she was born and raised in Lancaster and now looks forward to giving back to patients — many of whom she knows personally. “I think for the most part that makes the patient feel comfortable. They see that I know what I’m talking about, and I can give them information to help them along the way.”

Since starting the tobacco treatment program in March, Harris is seeing an average of 10 to 20 patients a week in Chester and Lancaster. She hopes to be able to expand their efforts in the future to reach more patients and save more lives.

“There’s not a lot here in these communities,” she said. “Generally anything you need, you have to travel for it. To be able to offer this lifesaving program within these communities is a big opportunity and blessing.”

Toll explained that one goal of Hollings’ Cancer Control Program is to be able to replicate the successes they are having at MUSC Health in Charleston throughout the state, effectively expanding the winning team they’ve built. Stephanie Stansell, Ph.D., senior tobacco treatment specialist at MUSC Health, said that seeing patient success stories motivates her to try to reach more people and save more lives.

Stansell’s passion for tobacco control stemmed from her own personal experience growing up with a father who smoked. She also knows how important it is in helping cancer patients. Not only does quitting smoking help to prevent cancer and other diseases, it also helps to improve outcomes of cancer treatment.

“I had a cancer patient I counseled a few months ago approach me two weeks after she was discharged,” Stansell said. “She walked up and grabbed me and said, ‘You helped me quit smoking. I want to let you know that after I talked to you, I quit smoking.’ That really made me tear up. It makes it all worth it.”