LewisGale Chief Medical Officer shares his journey and what Black History Month means to him

Published: Feb. 27, 2022 at 8:34 PM EST
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - Doctor Carnell Cooper was raised by his grandmother and great-grandparents in Dillon, South Carolina.

“My school in South Carolina had one small library, a football team, a basketball team, that was it.”

When Cooper was 15, he got involved with a program called “Better Chance.” The program gave him the opportunity to receive his education in the northeast.

“All of a sudden my entire world changed.”

Cooper soon started to look at college and decided to attend Yale University.

“I remember calling my grandmother and saying, hey mom! I got into Yale! She said, oh, great to hear that, and her next comment was, like any dutiful parent should do, she said is that a good school?”

While at Yale, Cooper began his interest in healthcare. That interest led him to Duke Medical School; a few years later, it turned into a career in surgery.

He’s operated in major cities like Baltimore, which showed him just how many families are impacted by violence.

“One of the reasons I got involved and focused on victim violence in the hospital, was because most of those patients were young black males who die at an alarmingly high rate.”

One specific story involving a mom and her 15-year-old son stays on his mind.

“I sat her down and I said he’s stable now, he’s had some bad injuries, we’re going to need some further surgery. We’re not out of the woods, but we’re doing better than when we were when he came in.”

For more than a decade, that mom has shared her son’s life events with Doctor Cooper.

“She just sort of keeps sending me a card of he and her together saying thank you. That’s the sort of satisfaction that you get from what we do.”

Doctor Cooper became Chief Medical Officer at LewisGale Regional Health System in February 2020. As he reminisces on his career, he takes time every February to reflect on Black History Month.

“Just think about how fortunate I am in some ways. Because the reason that I have been able to have some of the opportunities that I’ve had, is because of the sacrifices of those folks.”

Cooper said he’s thankful for everything civil rights leaders did, but it’s his duty to give back.

“I have an obligation to pay it forward, to work on things like that. How can I be a force in the community to help with challenges?”

For him, it starts at home, raising three daughters, and showing them that with the right influences, they too can make a difference.

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