Three Inspiring Appalachians Who Save Lives and Defy Stereotypes


Since 2010, West Virginia Public Broadcasting has produced a series called Inspiring West Virginians, highlighting 29 leaders in health, business and science. In this week’s episode, we hear three of these stories- a kind of finale- because this is the final year of the Inspiring West Virginians series.

Geoffrey Cousins- Heart Pioneer

We’ll hear from Geoffrey Cousins, who could have worked anywhere as a heart surgeon. But he came home to West Virginia to practice medicine.

“I think I bring a lot back to WV that other heart surgeons who are not West Virginians can’t possibly bring,” he said. 

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Former HHS Secretary

We’ll hear the story of a West Virginia native who was once hand-picked by the president to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“It is incredible thing to be from our state and to be proud of it,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration.

"I told Sylvia in grade school that she would be our first female president I'm still holding out for that. I think that might still come true."- Kristi Scott, longtime friend of Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Burwell is now President of American University in Washington, D.C.

In Search of Meaningful Work: Dr. D. Holmes Morton

Dr. D. Holmes Morton, of Fayetteville, is a high school dropout who found meaningful work by founding a clinic for children who have special needs.

“These children are seen as important to the culture and the community,” he said. Morton and his wife Caroline of Beckley, founded the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

Caroline and Holmes Morton

Credit Jean Snedegar
Caroline and Holmes Morton

In this story, we travel with Dr. Holmes to Amish country to hear about one of the most unusual medical clinics in the United States where doctors and scientists diagnose and treat rare genetic disorders in children from Old Order Amish and Mennonite communities.

Independent producer Jean Snedegar reported these stories with the help of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Suzanne Higgins.

After working for the BBC for more than 20 years, in 2002 Snedegar returned to her home town of Elkins, West Virginia because she missed the mountains and her people.

"I do very much see it as my roots and I see that small town as fostering a kind of curiosity and stubbornness I think that has allowed me to do a lot of what I wouldn't have been able to do."- Dr. D. Holmes Morton, native of Fayetteville, W.Va.

A special thanks to Jean Snedegar and Suzanne Higgins for their help with this episode. 

Music in today’s show was provided by D. Holmes Morton and Paul Holmes Morton, Ed Bowes, Gerry Milnes, John Gallagher, W.G. “Snuffy” Walden, Dinosaur Burps, Roma Yagnik, Ben Townsend, and  Anna and Elizabeth.

Patrick Stephens is our audio mixer. Roxy Todd is our producer.

Jesse Wright is our executive producer.