‘MUSC has never been just my employer’

Debbie McCravy’s office sits inside the entryway of MUSC’s Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, so her job supporting fundraising activities also includes an unofficial role as ambassador.

Anyone who passes through the doors – whether an international business leader or the child of a former patient – receives McCravy’s distinctive warm greeting.  She offers a gracious welcome and an enthusiastic ear, with a personal history that informs her work on campus. She is, after all, a donor as well as an employee.

“MUSC has played a role in each of my family members’ lives, from birth to death,” she said recently.

McCravy joined MUSC in 1978, a newlywed who relocated to Charleston from Birmingham with her high-school sweetheart, Larry.  She accepted a position at the College of Nursing, where she remembers the technology of the day. She spent one summer preparing a course syllabus on a typewriter, produced exam copies on a mimeograph and even trained on one of the first computers at the university. 

Debbie and Larry McCravy/photos provided. 

When she became pregnant with their daughter, Leslie, in 1982, McCravy turned to the nurse-midwives at the college for her own prenatal care and served as a model for their students. “It was a wonderful experience to be so close with those caring nurses who I adored,” she said.

An uneventful pregnancy turned into a complicated delivery when Leslie became stuck in the birth canal after 18 hours of labor. A surgeon performed a C-section to deliver the McCravys’ dark-haired little girl who looked just like her father, while a team took Debbie back for a transfusion to restore her blood loss.

And then, for 25 years, time elapsed for their family in a loop of birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. Leslie grew into a young woman, and Larry transitioned into work as a property manager on Kiawah Island, while Debbie made a career change into a leadership role in the banking industry.

Then, on a sunny July day in 2007, Larry called Debbie with news she couldn’t believe. “Leslie’s dead,” he said.

Larry hadn’t heard from Leslie, and they usually spoke several times a day, so he decided to stop by her new West Ashley apartment on his way home from work. There he found the body of their 25-year-old daughter, fatally shot by a boyfriend they didn’t know, a man who then turned the gun on himself.

Debbie tried to return to routine in those first months after Leslie’s murder, but she experienced an emotional spectrum -- anger at the slight inconveniences that fueled others’ complaints but also a surge of empathy for anyone suffering.

About six months after Leslie’s death, the McCravys planned for a night out at a concert. Larry tripped during their date. When he began experiencing back pain, he made an appointment with a neurologist who made the diagnosis: Larry had ALS, a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

As the couple worked to navigate Larry’s health care while still grieving the loss of their only child, the economic recession hit, sweeping away Debbie’s job among the wreckage within her industry.

She found a familiar home at MUSC. She returned in 2009, a lifetime away from the new wife and mother who joined the team decades earlier. “My life changed a great deal in those 22 years, but I was happy and felt blessed to be back at the Medical University,” she said.

In addition to a paycheck, MUSC provided resources that Debbie and Larry needed. Debbie started seeing a therapist in MUSC’s Crime Victims Assistance Program, and Larry found a medical team in MUSC’s ALS Clinic, which provides the spectrum of care -- neurologists, nurse practitioners, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians, speech pathologists, respiratory therapists and social workers -- in a single setting. 

Leslie McCravy

“Not only do we see them in clinic, but we see them in the community supporting ALS events,” Debbie said. “They literally walk the walk and talk the talk.”

The McCravys give back to the clinic through the Yearly Employee Support Campaign and other donations throughout the year. Their contributions and other private gifts will provide comfort items for patients, everything from valet parking to snacks or pill boxes, according to Clinic Director Dr. Amy Chen.

“I am proud of our ALS clinic team members,” Dr. Chen said. “They are dedicated, caring and bright individuals, committed to making a difference in patients’ lives every day. We are conducting research and clinical trials in ALS, offering patients the opportunity to help us better understand this disease and develop better treatments. Together with the institutional support, partnership with not-for-profit organizations and collaboration with colleagues, we strive to improve the quality of lives for these patients and their caregivers -- and to provide hope.”

The McCravys found that hope. A decade after diagnosis, Larry falls within the 10 percent of ALS patients to survive beyond three years.

“MUSC has been a part of our lives for so long and has never been just my employer,” Debbie said. “We know people often arrive here at the lowest points of their lives -- and we’ve been there -- so for us it’s a blessing that we can play some small role in helping make their days a little brighter.”