by Virginia Weir
As a young girl, Courtney Stephenson ’93 was dedicated to gymnastics, winning national competitions, including eight All-American titles and a national bronze medal on the balance beam in 1991.
Her passion for gymnastics led to an interest in physiology. In a summer anatomy class at Fairfield University, Stephenson met Dr. Donald Ross, professor of biology. “He approached me during a lab session and asked, ‘Why aren’t you going to medical school?’ I had never considered it! Dr. Ross believed in me. From that moment – and I remember it like yesterday – I turned my attention to medical school and never looked back.”
Stephenson has applied the same qualities she brought to gymnastics – focus, discipline, attention to detail, and a capacity to work under intense pressure – to developing her career as a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.
After graduating from Fairfield in 1993 with a degree in biology, Stephenson attended medical school at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“I loved internal medicine and enjoyed the complexity of managing complicated medical problems in pregnant women,” she said. “I’ll never forget delivering my first baby as a medical student during my obstetrics rotation and realizing I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” Stephenson marveled. “As a society, we spend so many hours working that it is important that you love your work and find reward in your contribution to the community.”
She next accepted a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at New York University. Then, in 2007, Stephenson undertook an extensive training program in the treatment of Twin-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), a life-threatening situation in which identical twins sharing the same placenta do not receive an equal blood supply. For almost three years she commuted every six weeks between her home in Charlotte, N.C., and Cincinnati to train with the world-renowned pediatric and fetal surgeon, Dr. Timothy Crombleholme. “I set out to learn how to use the laser in treatment of TTTS, but what I didn’t realize was that I was going to have the education of a lifetime.”
Stephenson is now one of only 38 specialists skilled in this procedure in the U.S., and was recognized last year as one of the “Top Doctors in Charlotte” by Charlotte Magazine.
Stephenson comes from a long line of Fairfield graduates, including her mother, Donna Curran ’80, and her brother, Christopher Cook ’88. Her father, Don Cook ’63, was also athletics director at Fairfield University from 1971 to 1986.
“My parents always encouraged me to do my best,” said Stephenson. “There were no expectations other than that you had to try your hardest.”
Trying her hardest has paid off for Stephenson. Earlier this year, the new Charlotte Fetal Care Center at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., opened under her direction. At any given time, Stephenson and her team of doctors, nurses, and ultrasound technicians are monitoring several women who are pregnant with twins who might become candidates for TTTS surgery. “I set out to open a fetal care center and offer a wider spectrum of fetal procedures, and now it has come to existence. It’s surreal – a professional dream come true.”
The opening of the Center has also meant a lot to Stephenson’s children, George, 10, and Julianna, 7.
“The accomplishment makes all that time I was commuting more tangible to them. I tell them they are very much a part of the Center’s success.” She strives to find a balance between her home life and her career. “My kids are the most important people in my world. They re-fuel me and make my life whole.”