A Living Legacy H. Biemann Othersen Jr MD Celebrates a Milestone

Dr. Othersen,  chair of the Curtis P Artz MUSC Surgical Society, with residents during a journal club
Dr. Othersen meets with residents at a Journal Club meeting sponsored by the Curtis P. Artz MUSC Surgical Society.

When Dr. Othersen reached a birthday milestone, more than 150 people sent him birthday cards to celebrate. “It started with members of my church who decided to have everyone send me 90 cards to commemorate my 90th birthday and it turned out I received more than 150. It was really quite touching.”

To all who have crossed paths with Dr. Othersen, you can certainly understand why so many people felt compelled to recognize him on his special day. His infectious laugh, endless energy, and engaging thoughtfulness are just some ways to describe the effect he has on people. These personality traits fit perfectly for the pediatric surgery career he chose more than 60 years ago.

Charleston born and raised, Dr. Othersen attended the College of Charleston, and the medical school at MUSC, completed an intern year at Philadelphia General Hospital, served two years in the U.S. Navy, and then spent a year at the University of Pennsylvania graduate school before returning to MUSC for general surgery and thoracic surgery training. It was during his surgical training that he met and courted Janelle Lester, a nursing student. They have been married for 62 years, and have four children and nine grandchildren.

After residency, he entered fellowship training in Pediatric Surgery at Ohio State University followed by a research year at Massachusetts General Hospital before returning to MUSC.

One of the most respected and loved pediatric surgeons in medicine, in his more than 50-year association with MUSC, few have made a more significant impact on patients, faculty, staff and students.

When Dr. Othersen joined the faculty at MUSC in 1965, he was the state’s first pediatric surgeon and one of the first in the Southeast. Dr. Othersen remembers when there was not a Children’s Hospital, and he says opening it in 1987 made a remarkable difference. As one of the founders of the MUSC Children’s Hospital, Dr. Othersen worked hard to ensure that children had the best care that could be found anywhere. Without Dr. Othersen’s vision, the MUSC Children’s Hospital would not be what it is today. He is a giant in the development of pediatric surgery at MUSC.

His vision, determination and work ethic continue to inspire and motivate others. Dr. Othersen and his wife, Janelle, personally helped lead the charge for the Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital campaign with a generous matching gift challenge to the Pediatric faculty and staff; he leads and continues to inspire residents, faculty and alumni as chairman of the Curtis P. Artz MUSC Surgical Society; and every Wednesday at 7:15 a.m. without fail, he holds thought-provoking lectures for the MUSC residents on their pediatric surgery rotation in the famous “Bee Hive Sessions.”

Dr. Othersen holds the distinction of being the longest consecutive contributor for the entire MUSC enterprise. His philanthropy at MUSC began in 1976 and spans 44 years.

When asked why he is so thoughtful in his philanthropy, he fondly recalls a time in his life when someone’s philanthropy made all the difference in the world.

“When Janelle and I moved to Boston to start my fellowship training in 1964, we were poor as church mice,” said Dr. Othersen. He explains that the previous fellowship program paid salaries on the first of the month and the research program he entered paid salaries at the end of the month.“We were very concerned on how we were going to feed our young daughter when a friend of Janelle’s generously sent us $25. That meant the world to us - it meant food on the table. Our gratitude remains with us to this day and we hope our gifts make a similar lasting impact.”