NASCAR journalist living ‘life in the fast lane’ because of lifetime of lifesaving care at MUSC

Melissa Varner
September 08, 2021
Hunter sits in a Charger division race car

Growing up in Darlington, South Carolina – home to the famous Darlington Raceway – Hunter Thomas couldn’t help but fall in love with NASCAR. The raceway hosts the annual NASCAR Southern 500, which Thomas hasn’t missed since he was 7 years old. “Even during the pandemic, I was able to get to the one here in town,” Thomas said. 

Hunter appears as a guest on WBMF News' Darlington Race Day Live at Darlington Raceway

During the week, Thomas works for Florence-Darlington Technical College. On the weekends he’s living his NASCAR dreams as a journalist and photographer for The Fourth Turn, a motorsports news and opinion website he founded with a friend. Before the pandemic, Thomas would travel to NASCAR races to capture all the breathtaking action.

“Some of the tracks, like Bristol Motor Speedway up in Tennessee, I’m actually sitting on top of the wall taking photos of the cars as they come by,” Thomas said. “It can get pretty intense, especially when they crash.”

Thomas has a front seat for the heart-pumping action because of a lifetime of lifesaving care he has received through the Medical University of South Carolina.

“I live life in the fast lane, and MUSC has helped me stay on track – literally! It's like every appointment is a pit stop, and I always return to the racetrack faster and stronger than before,” Thomas said.

Hunter rests in an incubator as a newborn

Thomas’ first “pit stop” at MUSC came just a few weeks after he was born at McLeod Regional Hospital on Jan. 19, 1990. Pediatric cardiologists flown in from MUSC diagnosed the 3 lb. 10 oz. preemie with tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart disease caused by a combination of four heart defects.

Thomas was transferred to MUSC for surgery when he was 6 weeks old. A shunt, or small tube, was placed in his heart to help blood flow to his lungs and other organs. At 10 months old, MUSC surgeons repaired his heart defects. His next “pit stop” came at 2 years old, when intestinal issues led to him having his gallbladder and appendix removed.

When Thomas was 21, his defibrillator malfunctioned after being recalled and shocked him seven times.

“That was the longest ambulance ride of my life, going from Florence to Charleston on a stretcher,” Thomas said. “I couldn't see anything except the door in front of me. When I got to MUSC, I just felt just the biggest relief because I knew they would fix it.”

Recently, Thomas returned to MUSC for a major “tune-up.” He was implanted with the first device in the world approved by the FDA to treat patients with congenital heart disease. 

He’s just the third MUSC Health patient to receive a Harmony Transcatheter Pulmonary Valve. The device helps improve blood flow to the lungs without the risk and longer recovery time of open-heart surgery.

Thomas got his new valve in June 2021, just a few months after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. MUSC Health specialists helped develop the revolutionary technique to implant it.

As a nonprofit academic medical center, MUSC Health can provide this kind of advanced care, which has saved and changed Hunter’s life in so many ways, thanks largely to generous private support.

“It takes a village to do research and development, it can take years to be successful and that takes money,” Thomas said. “When you give to the Medical University, it's going to be used to save lives. It’s changing what’s possible and it's changing the world.”

 

About the Author

Melissa Varner

Keywords: Thank You Notes, Pediatrics, Heart