A Harmonious Collaboration

Dr. Lesher and Ms Christie

With Barbara Christie’s background in medical sales, volunteerism and philanthropy – and her heart for service & she knew she could make a difference. Finding the right fit was a journey that developed through a shared love of music and service to the community. Christie had a successful career in marketing for several major pharmaceutical companies in the Boston area, developing expertise in surgical device sales. In 2006, she moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to lead the marketing efforts for Darkness to Light, a nonprofit working to end the sexual abuse of children.

Upon her arrival to Charleston, she joined Grace Church Cathedral, singing in the St. Gregory Choir, a semiprofessional choir, and serving on several church committees. It was there that she met MUSC pediatric surgeon Aaron Lesher, a classically trained pianist and member of the choir. The two spent hours together harmonizing and developing a deep friendship based on their shared interests in music, medicine and service. “As our friendship developed, Aaron and I would have deep conversations about the children he cared for, the complexity of cases he saw, and his specialization in pediatric surgery,” Christie explained.

A surgeon who treats adults is often specialized in a specific organ or part of the body. Pediatric surgeons like Lesher must be experts in multiple organs and specialize in operating on a
variety of ages and sizes, from infants to young adults. “One day, I asked Aaron where he saw the greatest need for me to be able to make a meaningful impact,” she said.

“He filled me in on the challenges of today’s general surgey residents who want to pursue a career in pediatric surgery.” Pediatric surgeons are among the most specialized, trained
and experienced surgeons. Becoming one is a rigorous process that requires a commitment of at least seven years of advanced training after medical school. The last step is
a two-year pediatric surgery fellowship, where they gain hands-on experience.

These fellowships are highly competitive to get into, Lesher explained. A recent study found the most successful candidates are residents who have experience in both the operating room and the lab. Lesher suggested Christie invest in resident education at MUSC: Her gift could provide residents with dedicated research time, giving them a competitive edge when applying for fellowships.
He explained there are many opportunities for residents interested in a career in pediatric surgery to engage in research at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, which is verified by the American College of Surgeons as a Level 1 Children’s Surgery Center and a Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center and is the state’s only pediatric burn center.

“All of these dedicated programs are involved with numerous clinical and quality-related research projects that further the field of pediatric surgery and improve children’s operative outcomes,” said Lesher.

With help from Vera Ford, director of development, Christie created two funds: an endowment, which will last forever, and an expendable fund, which can be used right away.

Christie’s endowment will be invested by the MUSC Foundation; the interest will create a permanent source of future funding for the new resident research program. “Thanks to Barbara’s generous gift, beginning in the next fiscal year, we can offer dedicated research time for residents interested in a career in pediatric surgery,” Lesher said. “This gift is a real game changer for our trainees – and, ultimately, the children they’ll go on to treat.”

The Barbara Stuart Christie Surgical Resident Research Endowment Fund will impact generations of patients and residents, Ford added. “Barbara had the foresight to generously create an expendable fund, which for the next three years will do two things: it will provide support to our first resident as early as 2024, and it will allow the initial investment in the endowment to grow over the next three years.” For Christie, giving to MUSC came down to two things: a personal connection and confidence that her gift would make a meaningful impact.

Her friendship with Lesher gave her both. “Through our conversations, I could envision how my investment will provide more meaningful training opportunities and improve patient care.”Ultimately, Christie’s impact will be bigger than she ever imagined, Ford said. “In the most profound way, Barbara is changing lifetimes of lives.”