Friendship that started in church choir key to life-changing gift

Lauren Hooker
January 25, 2024
Innovation Circle member Barbara Christie and MUSC pediatric surgeon Dr. Aaron Lesher
Innovation Circle member Barbara Christie and MUSC pediatric surgeon Dr. Aaron Lesher.

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 in Charleston, she joined Grace Church Cathedral, singing in the St. Gregory Choir and serving on several committees. It was there that she met MUSC pediatric surgeon Aaron Lesher, M.D., a classically trained pianist. 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 surgery 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.

With help from Vera Ford, director of development, Christie created two funds: an expendable fund, which can be used right away, and an endowment, which will last forever. The expendable fund will support the start-up of the new residency research program, beginning as early as 2024. The endowment will provide the program with operating funds in perpetuity once it is up and running.

Taken together, Christie’s gift will have a major, enduring impact on resident training and patient care at MUSC, said Lesher.

“This gift is a real game changer for our trainees – and, ultimately, the children they’ll go on to treat,” he said.

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 lives today and for generations to come.”

The Christie family has generously supported numerous programs at MUSC, including the first endowed chair in the College of Health Professions, funding for the Heart & Vascular Center and support for the Storm Eye Institute.