Carolyn Reed, MUSC physician, was brilliant compassionate and fun.
She loved Caesar salads and red wine, collecting art and giving Lowcountry friends huge bottles of maple syrup made in her native Maine, those who knew her say.
She would unwind by playing classical music and show tunes on her grand piano. A favorite pastime was sitting by her pool reading mysteries and spy novels.
Dr. Carolyn Reed, the Medical University of South Carolina thoracic surgery section head, seemed always to have been smiling or laughing, says Maggie Ramsden, her nurse-practitioner for nine years. The doctor was seen as someone who would not become flustered regardless of the situation.
Reed, a cardio thoracic surgeon with a particular interest in esophageal cancer, was born in March 1950 and died Nov. 16. She lived in Charleston for 27 years.
“She loved to teach the students and residents,” Ramsden says. “She enjoyed, to some extent, watching them make mistakes and watching them learn from their mistakes. She was approachable. For the department’s residents and fellows, she was almost a den mother.
“She had a relaxed personality for a cardio thoracic surgeon,” Ramsden says. “Some might say they can be a bit abrupt.”
While Reed liked hard cases, she would take easier ones sent to her as well, Ramsden says. Reed was not one to pass on such a case to her junior partner.
She bonded with them all.
“She treated all of her patients like a VIP,” Ramsden says. “It did not matter if they were sent from the prison or the dean’s office. We never overbooked her schedule. She was there with them every step of the way. If there wasn’t enough time (for them), she’d cancel a meeting or stay late. It made the patients trust her and believe in her.
“She wanted the patients to feel like they were an extremely important part of the team,” Ramsden says.
One such patient was Annette Reynolds of Florence.
“I met Dr. Reed in June 2012,” Reynolds said. “I had been to a lung specialist who told me I had a spot on my lung. He said: ‘Let’s cut you and see what it is.’ ”
Reynolds decided to seek a second opinion.
“It only took me a week to get an appointment with her. She had a nice sense of humor and put me at ease with her calm manner.”
Tests were performed, then Reed returned to speak with her.
“She was not in a hurry,” Reynolds says. “She had as much time as I needed. It wasn’t like she was handing me a death sentence. She drew little diagrams and made sure I understood. I felt a whole lot better after talking to her, a whole lot better.
“We decided we would do the surgery on Aug. 16,” Reynolds says. “When I saw her, (after surgery) she held my hand and asked me how I was feeling. I think God sent me to her.”
Not only was Reed a brilliant trailblazer who was fun to socialize with, she had a quick wit and compassion for people, says Corinne Sade, whose husband worked with Reed.
“She was on every board there was (in her field),” Sade says.
Reed, she adds, was the first woman president of the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association.
She gave up skiing, which she loved, many years ago because she did not want to risk damaging her hands and becoming unable to perform surgery.
“If you pulled a joke on her, she could pull one back even quicker,” Sade says.
Reed loved to entertain and would go to great lengths to plan and host parties. She would go to the party store and get just the right props to ensure that her friends and residents had the most fun possible.
Her remedy for dispirited times?
Reed kept a box of letters from patients and others she had helped along the way, and she read some whenever she became discouraged, Sade says. She suggested to colleagues at a 2007 surgical association gathering that all surgeons should have such a box.
“At times of discouragement or fatigue, I only have to open the box,” she said. “... My patients are my inspiration. I believe too often we hide our emotions.
“I have promised myself that the day I no longer walk out of the hospital with tears in my eyes over the loss of a patient will be the day I quit medicine.”
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.