Bagpiping medical student "born" to go to MUSC

Melissa Varner
April 15, 2024
Alston Lewis and his parents.
Alston Lewis, College of Medicine Class of 2026, poses with his parents in his first white coat.

Soon-to-be third year medical student Alston Lewis jokes his introduction to the Medical University of South Carolina came "early" in life.

"I was born May 26, 1999, at Greenville Memorial," Alston said. "Within hours of being born, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect and flown down to MUSC Children's Hospital in Charleston."

Two major arteries in Alston's heart were switched in position – a condition known as transposition of the great arteries or TGA. MUSC pediatric cardiac surgeon Scott Bradley, M.D., reconstructed Alston's heart when he was barely a week old.

Alston Lewis' mother holding him when he is an infant. 
Alston with his mom in 1999, after a successful surgery at MUSC Children's Hospital fixed his congenital heart defect.

"Dr. Bradley and the pediatric cardiac surgeons at MUSC work absolute miracles," Alston said. "Literally, because I wouldn't be here without them."

Nearly 25 years later, Alston is back at MUSC, as a student in the College of Medicine. He knows he wants to be a doctor, but he's not sure yet what kind.

For obvious reasons, he's considering pediatric cardiology. Ophthalmology also fascinates Alston, who's "very, very nearsighted" and has needed glasses since he was 5 years old.

No matter what kind of doctor he becomes, one thing is clear: "The cost of going to an undergraduate, then medical school and living in Charleston is obviously quite significant," Alston said.

He's grateful his parents can contribute to his education.

"My mom's an accountant, so she invested in a 529 savings plan for my education," Alston said. The funds can be used toward almost every college or university, including medical school.

Scholarships have also been huge. The funds Alston was awarded as an undergraduate at Furman University, combined with his parents' financial planning, allowed him to arrive at MUSC debt-free.

At MUSC, he has qualified for the Lewis M. Davis Sr., M.D. Endowed Scholarship, a need/merit-based scholarship awarded to a South Carolina student from Greenville County.

The endowed scholarship was established by College of Medicine alumnus Lewis M. Davis Jr., Class of 1971, in memory of his father, a graduate of the college's Class of 1943.

"It really is a gift," Alston said. "A couple of $1,000 to a medical student is an incredible sum of money."

Even with a scholarship and his parents' savings, Alston still needs to work to cover his rent and living expenses. Luckily, he loves his side gig.

Alston Lewis in his bagpiping uniform. 
Alston, ready for a bagpiping gig.

"I'm a professional bagpiper," Alston said. "So, I supplement income by playing events like weddings, funerals – even baby showers."

His talents are especially in demand around St. Patrick's Day, Alston said. "March is like my Super Bowl."

While he hasn't had to take out any student loans yet, Alston expects he will need to later this year, when his savings run out. That makes him even more grateful to the Davis family and all alumni who invest in students like him through scholarships.

"It also says a lot that MUSC alumni, decades later, remember when they were in our shoes and say, 'We want to help the students currently going through that,'" Alston said. "It says a lot about MUSC that alumni stay engaged and continue to care that much about it."