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Beyond the White Coat

Profiles of our Women's Health Providers


Family, Football, and Fishing

cristian thomae and children

On any given weekend, one might find Cristian Thomae and his youngest of four sons, traveling through the local rivers, jetties or backwater creeks of Charleston looking for Redfish, Flounder or Black Drum. These are fish which thrive in the many oyster bars and shallow flats in and around the Low country and provide great sport for the average or expert fisherman. If not fishing, he and his boys will kicking the soccer ball or watching matches on TV. A former soccer player, himself, and avid fan, he talks about his love of soccer and his favorite soccer teams, of which he has severalBoca Juniors of Argentina, Barcelona from La Liga and Manchester City of England. Why soccer you might ask in a state like South Carolina where the fans of Clemson and USC stand firm in their loyalties to football, and in their rivalries between each other and othersThe answer is quite simple. Cristian Thomae, OB-GYN at MUSC was raised on soccer, or as his native country refers to it-football.  “I actually played soccer myself until just 5 years ago,” he professed, “and my 9 and 11 year old boys play now.  

Cristian was born in Argentina and lived there until the age of twelve, when his father, an electrical engineer moved his family to Rochester, NY., where the manufacturing industry was booming and innovation was kingThink Kodak, Xerox, General Dynamics, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Describing the experience of moving to the United States, little trace of his native language is apparent today. “I knew very little English, and when we moved from the beautiful mountains of Argentina to the cold and snowy winters of Rochester, I was in culture shock. Eventually we moved to northern Virginia and this is where my exposure to medicine began,” Dr. Thomae adds.  

Dr. Thomae attended the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and then went on to complete his residency at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, VA. He also spent time at Parris Island in BeaufortCharleston Naval Hospital where he taught residents from and the Medical University of South Carolina. The navy is where his initial relationship with another MUSC OB-GYN began, but also where his relationship with the Low country was interrupted for a time—Hurricane Hugo.   

After the devastating storm in 1989, Dr. Thomae and his family relocated to Augusta, Georgia. In Augusta, he was in private practice for the next twenty-four years as an OB-GYN. In 2008, long after laparoscopic procedures were introduced to the world of surgery, he experienced a desire to learn about the DaVinci robot. What drew him into the deep dive of learning about the DaVinci was his desire to understand the benefits of robotic surgery to his patients, particularly those women who required a hysterectomy or other complicated surgery for problems such as severe endometriosis or infertility. What he found in investigating, training and becoming an expert in using the robot was that it was “to find the simplest resolution to a complex surgical problems, and would be a solution that offered the least interference in a woman’s daily life. This translated to less pain, less blood loss, shorter hospital stays and a shorter recovery time,” Thomae added. 

“I have probably delivered close to 5, 000 babies in my life, and I decided that I was ready for a different challenge, and for me that was dedicating the remainder of my career to women of all ages, who needed this type of surgical option and to share this knowledge with our physicians-in-training. That’s when I decided to reach out to MUSC, an organization which would be able to provide the best of both worlds—doing and teaching.”   

Dr. Thomae exhibits an effervescent smile and suddenly switches the topic to fishing. “Maneuvering the DaVinci, allows great flexibility of the wrists, similar to what you have to do when fishing.” He pauses briefly then laughs, “But I’m not very good at fishing. I study the fishing blogs to learn the tides, and aside from soccer, it’s one of my favorite things to do with my boys. Our fishing expeditions only last for a while. We catch few fish, they get bored and we end up tubing.”   

Dr. Thomae continues to talk about his family, their hobbies and how he likes to spend his leisure time. He is a man of many interests and exhibits much exuberance about life and what it has to offer. “My father is 90 years oldHe used to read calculus books for fun,” he remarks proudly. “I have six children, five grandchildren and one on the way. My wife is an amazing professional photographer, whose family is also here. I have my work, I have my family…I have soccer. Speaking of which, I think Argentina is playing today,” he adds smiling. “I will definitely be watching that game with my boys.”  

For more information about Cristian Thomae, M.D., OB-GYN at the Medical University of South Carolina visit  or call 843-792-5300.

Meet Dr. Steven Swift
Dr. Steven Swift and wife in Italy
Dr. Swift and wife Alisa in Sienna, Italy. 

One might think of Leonardo DaVinci as the quintessential renaissance man – master of art, engineer, and anatomy expert –the list goes on and on. But we don’t have to travel back in time or all the way to Italy to find our DaVinci-like renaissance man at the  Medical University of South Carolina. To meet that person,  just travel to the sixth floor of the clinical sciences building at MUSC and there you will discover professor, surgeon, oenophile, sports enthusiast, father, husband, chef, carpenter – our very own renaissance man, Steven Swift, M.D., board certified in obstetrics and gynecology, and in female pelvic medicine & reconstructive surgery, Dr. Swift speaks very proudly, yet humbly of his many interests and talents.

“I love creating and I think that my passion for cooking, woodworking, and being a surgeon are interestingly similar when you think about creativity,” he says. “There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end in any project-and in each of these situations I use creativity to adapt to each individual project. Creativity comes into play when I think about the result I am trying to achieve. Most importantly, when treating my patients, I adapt the therapy or the treatment to what my patients want, expect, or need to make their lives better. It’s truly about quality of life and because each patient is different, I have to treat each situation differently. This is where creativity in medicine comes into play.”

Laughing, he continues. “That’s why I started building furniture. I had to creatively come up with a place to keep our clothes.” When asked to explain, he continued on to describe the experience that prompted that first piece of  woodworking. “I was a second year medical student with a wife, little money, living in a small apartment in an old house with no closets. We couldn’t afford to buy an armoire, so I decided to build one.” Laughing again he added, “We still have that armoire. It’s in our garage and we keep our sporting equipment in it.”

When not treating patients or building his next piece of furniture, Steven loves to travel to different regions throughout the world that offer great cuisine, great wine and great vistas. Italy floated to the top as one of his favorite places as he described his take on Italian wines and food. “When I think of Italian food I think of pasta, loud and boisterous crowds, and deep, rich wines.” When asked about his favorite Italian restaurants in Charleston he quickly listed Al-di-la in West Ashley, Pane E Vino in downtown, and La Pizzeria in Mt. Pleasant. “The restaurant doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be good.” An avid fan of Italy, he and his entire family plan to visit the medieval village of Soave in Northern Italy where they grow the very special Gargenega grapes for a particular style of white wine. He looks forward to the trip and to spending time with his wife, three adult children and their significant others.

Family for Steven includes his wife of thirty-three years, two sons, and a daughter. He proudly points out each of them positioned on top of the desk he built himself, the bookshelves and the walls. The myriad pictures of his family from across the globe brighten his office as does the smile on his face when he speaks of each of them with pride.   

The conversation continues and eventually lands on the topic of his work and his patients. “While I love cooking and traveling and building things, I am really most satisfied when a patient says ‘thank you’ for fixing me,” Steven states with satisfaction. “While much of what I do is not life-threatening, I know that I can improve the quality of life for the women who put their trust in me,” he continues. “It’s my job to listen to each and every woman who comes to me. And, in that process, I want them to know how together we will overcome their particular issue.” When asked what his patients might say about him, he laughs and says, “They almost always ask me where my bowtie is when I see them just before surgery. I always wear a bowtie when I see my patients in the office, but you just can’t wear a bowtie with surgical scrubs,” he laughs. 

A renaissance man in a bowtie? Why not? It is Charleston, South Carolina after all.

For more information about Dr. Swift or to make an appointment call 843-792-5300 or visit Women's Health at MUSC.

“Head-to-Head with Bobby Flay”

The popularity of cooking shows in recent years has spurred men and women alike to create, design and experiment with many different food groups, flavors, and ethnic cuisines. This has never been more evident than in Charleston, SC where the city thrives on its reputation as a “foodie haven.” Yet, it is not along upper and lower King Street where numerous eateries exist, that a most famous chef of Charleston practices her trade. Ashlyn Savage, an OB-GYN extraordinaire, mother, wife and semi-celebrity chef practices her culinary trade in a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac on the Ashley River. This is where the “Queen of Dip” lives.

Dr. Savage and family
Ashlyn Savage and her family on vacation.

“I love to cook,” states Ashlyn Savage, an OB-GYN at MUSC Health who is more often recognized as a popular, and highly respected physician of women, rather than a “top chef” of local fame. “If I do anything for myself, it is cooking. I love to experiment with recipes and ethnic foods, and gather with other friends and families in our close-knit neighborhood where roving, impromptu parties are frequent.” 

“We have nomadic-like parties in the neighborhood moving from house to house on any given night. We also hold contests, with a theme of course, to see who can bring on the best and compete to win a prize or a new title. As part of the contest, you might have to cook a dish that includes a tomato, or collards, or any other random ingredient,” she goes on to explain. “We’ve had a Rib King, a Collards Queen, and I am the Dip Queen,” she laughs. “I won with an artichoke dip, but my best is my 7-layer Mexican dip.”

While cooking and spending time with family and friends is important, most of her days are filled with the responsibility of taking care of women of the low country. Together with her husband, also a physician, the two left the sun-filled days of Charleston for four years of cold and snow in Pittsburgh to complete their residencies. Despite the cold, Pittsburgh proved to be “an easy town to live in,” and they came away with fond memories of the “City of Bridges.”

After moving back to Charleston, another city of bridges, Ashlyn continued her medical career as one of the first female, general OB-GYN’s on staff at MUSC. While she considers herself an “academic generalist” who is involved in clinical care, teaching and research, she describes herself as “more of a teacher than a researcher.” 

“My involvement with learners is that it helps keep me current and is a reminder of how I ended up where I am today.” Ashlyn’s sense of pride in her work at MUSC Health is clearly evident in her voice as she shares her experiences about involvement with women and their families.

“My life is centered on my family, as well as my patients’ families. During a pregnancy, I get to know the whole family, because everyone is involved and by the end of the pregnancy I frequently have met everyone—grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles. It’s not always just the expectant parents who come to hear the heartbeat for the first time—it’s the family. Having a baby is a major life moment, and I cherish that hugely rewarding part of being the OB-GYN for the mom and her entire family.”

Work aside, Ashlyn is also a mother of two boys, aged eight and nine, who keep her busy with the fantasies and realities of football, hockey and baseball. Still huge fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and Pirates, and other sports teams, the family often chooses to celebrate life events with tickets to sporting events rather than gifts. “We travel instead of buying a thing,” she explains. “Something the entire family can enjoy.” Laughing quietly, she adds, “We still have yet to make it to a Pittsburgh Penguins’ game, but it’s on the list.”

When looking around Ashlyn’s office at photos of her family, posters and art from the special places the family has traveled, and other mementos, you get a sense of a woman who is comfortable, confident and content. She likes being an OB-GYN generalist, she likes being a teacher, she likes being a mom and wife, and she likes being a chef—and her patients more than just “like her” in return. When you hear the admiration and praise from patients, colleagues and her family, we know that with this kind of resume and her knack for creating those “magic moments” for all families, Ashlyn Savage can take on Bobby Flay any day!

Learn more about Women's Health at MUSC Health.

Dr. Donna Johnson and Husband
Dr. Donna Johnson and husband, Greg

The phrase “drawing a line in the sand” is often used as a metaphor meaning a point beyond which one will go no further. While not a line in the sand, Donna Johnson literally drew a line across a map of the US from Greenville, SC to coastal California, illustrating her intent to only look south of that line for her residency program. This gesture, as she relays the story in that telltale South Carolinian accent of hers, accompanied her claim of “I don’t like the cold, and I wasn’t going to apply to any programs north of my proverbial line in the sand.” Luckily for the women of South Carolina and MUSC Women’s Health, Donna Johnson, Department Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina, kept to that promise, eventually ending up in San Diego at the University of California for her residency and fellowship, before eventually heading back to coastal South Carolina and her southern roots.   

The journey, however, was not what one might expect of the average individual considering medicine as a career. Donna Johnson is not average. She was not a native Charlestonian, nor did she come from a family of physicians, scholars or professionals. She was the daughter of a tobacco farmer in rural South Carolina in Horry County. She learned how to drive a tractor at age five. From age nine, she oversaw the daily operations of the tobacco farm during the summer. And, in spite of her love for her family, the South, and warm weather, she couldn’t wait to leave the farm and get an education.

She earned a scholarship to Coastal Carolina University and Francis Marian University, but Furman University was her choice, and it was her tobacco farmer father, Mr. Palmer Johnson, who promised his help in fulfilling his daughter’s dream. “You can be anything you want to be,” he repeatedly told her, and off she went to Greenville to begin her amazing journey.

After four years at Furman and medical school at MUSC, Donna applied to residency programs in Texas, Alabama and California-all locations below the line on the map and clearly warm weather states. While the program at University in Texas at Houston pulled at her, Donna decided upon the University of California-San Diego where Robert Resnik, M.D., a mentor to her and a leading expert in Maternal Fetal Medicine, still practices today.¹ Dr. Resnik once fondly told her that he planned on changing her, but instead she changed them, and in a good way. She considers Resnik her “academic father” and speaks very highly of his influence on her life.

Donna spent a total of nine years in San Diego where she completed her residency, a two year fellowship in maternal fetal medicine and one year in private practice. San Diego is where she also met Greg, her husband of 26 years, was a sailor and a captain. Eventually, their mutual attraction to the sea and its many treasures, aligned closely with their personal goal of one day, living at the beach. When the thrill of the Pacific coast lost some of its appeal and the desire to return home closer to family took over, Greg and Donna packed up their belongings and headed back to Charleston and the beaches of Folly. 

“I came back to Charleston because it had the energy of city life, but not the hassles of bigger city living. I also wanted to help the women of South Carolina and particularly rural women who needed it most.” South Carolina ranked as one of the states with the highest rate of pre-term birth and Donna instinctively knew that South Carolina was where she belonged. “I love babies and as an OB-GYN, I loved being part of the creation of a family, and I wanted to be affiliated with an organization that had a strong maternal fetal medicine program.” Twenty years later, Donna is now the lone female department chair at MUSC, and she stands proudly as a strong voice for the women of South Carolina, regardless of their circumstances, and an advocate for women’s health, regardless of the challenges.  

And yet, medicine is not her only passion. All these years later, Donna and her husband have remained tightly entwined with the sea, living at the beach and traveling the waters of the world from the Galapagos to the Bay of Magdalena, to the icier waters of Alaska. Her eyes light up when she tells the stories of her travels with her best friend and husband, Greg. The Orcas, the gray whales, the hundreds of dolphins they witnessed in a feeding frenzy, the harbor seals giving birth in icy waters, and all of the wildlife she has encountered over the years brings her a similar level of joy as when she places that newborn baby into the hands of its mother. It is life that excites her and the beginning of a human life that drives her desire to help all mothers experience that miracle, whenever possible.

In recalling when she first arrived in Charleston, Donna recalls the first night at Folly Beach. “We went to feed the seagulls and the wind was blowing and the sun was setting, and I realized I was at peace. The waves of the ocean wash away all my problems, and this is where I belong,” she says softly as the conversation closes.

In listening to her retell stories of her life, her travels, her passions, it is not difficult to imagine  why women place their trust in this amazing woman. She provides the expertise when it is most needed. She provides wisdom when difficult decisions are presented. She provides strength and courage when it is needed most. And she provides a voice when others do not have the words.  

 “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

- Mother Teresa


For more information about Donna Johnson, M.D., MUSC Women’s Health, or to schedule an appointment in downtown Charleston or North Charleston, visit or call 843-792-5300.


Dr. Edenfield and Cisco on a runThe autumn season often evokes visions of colorful foliage, cool weather, and the beginning of the winter season, but at MUSC Women’s Health, the word autumn for many women in the Charleston area evokes feelings of hope, gratitude, and relief in the form of their local urogynecology expert — Dr. Autumn Edenfield.

While most OB/GYNs gravitate toward the expected path of taking care of pregnant women and delivering babies, Autumn made her way toward an area of expertise that isn’t as easily discussed or shared “out loud” in open conversations.  

As a Charleston native, Autumn has always loved the Holy City, but she gravitated to a much larger city when selecting a medical school by settling on NYU in the heart of Manhattan. For her, experiencing the rigors of medical school and the thrill and excitement of New York City was one of the most exciting times of her life. Not to mention that New York is where she met her future husband, who was also studying medicine at NYU. When asked why New York in particular, she quickly responded with “I loved the feel and excitement of the city where we could walk to restaurants and shops, and run through the park at any time.” 

“This is why I came back to Charleston,” she added. “It’s a smaller city, but the energy of city life is still there.” As Autumn made her way back to Charleston by way of Duke University, it was in her third year of training that she decided on the path to urogynecology. She wanted to remain involved in research and teaching, and as her mentor from MUSC helped to make that connection, Charleston became a likely destination. 

“I always liked science and biology as a child, but I didn’t want to just be in a lab environment and the choice to specialize in urogynecology arrived when I realized I wanted a combination of surgery and medicine. I wanted to “fix” problems, and uro-gyn has given me that option. It’s very satisfying to be able to actually provide great treatment options for some very serious issues experienced by women. My patients are often very active and proactive in their search for an answer. They aren’t embarrassed about their issues and readily share their personal stories as a way of stressing just how strong their desires are to return to a life of normalcy and no embarrassment. ”

Laughing lightly, Autumn added, “I sometimes feel like I’ve put ‘Ms. Humpty Dumpty back together again.’ In all seriousness, women can experience devastating consequences related to their uro-gyn systems, and I’m glad to be the one to give them hope and an answer to their problems. I also am privileged to work with women of all ages because it’s not just an issue that affects senior women, it can affect women of all ages.”

When asked what she does to relax, Autumn describes her personal life as “always being on the go.” In addition to her busy practice in Mount Pleasant and Summerville, Autumn has a 10-month-old son named Cisco and a fellow physician husband. Still attracted to city life, Autumn and her husband live in the downtown area where they can still walk to restaurants and shops, but also run (another passion).

“Before I became pregnant, I ran several half-marathons and the routes in the downtown area were perfect for training. I picked routes which also housed public water fountains, which made it easier to make my way around town — Hampton Park, Waterfront Park, the Cooper Bridge, Folly Beach, and beyond. I just plug in to a podcast to get in the mood, and I am off to the next water fountain.”

“You just cannot go to Duke University and not end up being a basketball fan,” she adds to the list of pastimes. “Whenever we get a chance, we try to take advantage of March Madness and go to an NCAA basketball game. It doesn’t matter who is playing, it’s just fun to watch.”

As we settle into the end of summer with the promise of cooler weather on the horizon, Autumn Edenfield gears up for her next run and her next surgery. Looking very comfortable in surgical scrubs, she epitomizes the lifestyle which many of her patients seek as they look to her for an answer to their problems – healthy, active, and happy. For our uro-gyn specialist, being able to fulfill their needs is a connection in life worth its weight in autumn gold.

For more information about Autumn Edenfield, M.D. or to schedule an appointment in Mount Pleasant or Summerville, MUSC Health Womens' Health or call 843-792-5300.