Fourth-year medical student Dr. J.D. Chesser poses for a portrait with a rat snake in the trauma room of the emergency room at USA Medical Center Oct. 16, 2013.
Before attending medical school, Dr. Chesser obtained a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Mississippi. While completing the graduate program, he taught several lab courses and conducted research on species diversity and community evolution in the face of various forms of habitat disturbance. “When I graduated I had no intention of pursuing medicine,” said Dr. Chesser. “My intention was to get a terminal degree and teach.”
While immersed in his doctoral program’s work, Dr. Chesser noticed his interests beginning to include questions about human biology and disease. “Eventually it got to the point that when I would go to see the doctor myself, I’d spend more time addressing my curiosities than I would addressing my complaint,” said Dr. Chesser. “I accepted that the nudging of God wasn’t going to go away until I did something about it, so I started studying for the MCAT.”
During his third year as a medical student at USA, Dr. Chesser began rotations at USA Medical Center. While seeing patients in the Emergency Department with his attending physician, Dr. Chesser was approached by a classmate for his expertise.
“Not thinking myself to have any relevant ‘expertise’ I was somewhat perplexed at her request,” he said. The classmate handed over a blue solo cup with a lid on it. “I thought someone had brought in a spider or something for identification,” said Dr. Chesser. However, upon opening the cup, Dr. Chesser was “faced with two eyes, a long body, and no legs.”
“So much for spiders,” said Dr. Chesser. A patient had been bitten by a snake, and was unsure as to whether it was venomous.
“A quick glance indicated that it was a rough earth snake, and they aren’t venomous, so I poured it out in my hand and started a snake anatomy lesson,” he said. “At that point, rounds were officially suspended for a biological study.”
Dr. Chesser was surprised by how quickly the new disseminated of his encounter with the limbless reptile. One of the residents had recorded video of the impromptu anatomy lesson and it had gone viral. Dr. Chesser’s classmates from extended departments were commenting on having seen him with the snake. “Somehow or another the picture ended up in the yearbook,” he said.
The encounter described above was not the first time Dr. Chesser had identified a snake at USA Medical Center. One month prior, he was working in the Emergency Department when someone came in with a snakebite wound.
“I had gone out to pick up dinner. On the way back to where my team was I heard the words ‘snake bite’ among some of the nurses,” said Dr. Chesser. “I lost all interest in food, but knowing that my teammates would not be of a similar sentiment, I took them what they had ordered and returned.
After telling the nurses that I thought I could be of some use, we waited and were met by a 4-year-old girl, her frantic grandmother, and a gray rat snake that was hacked into about 40 pieces.”
The 4-year-old’s wound was washed and bandaged, and the grandmother calmed after realizing that the snake was not dangerous.
In addition to his scientific talents, Dr. Chesser is proficient in several languages. He began learning Greek in the eighth grade because of its undeniable influence on Western Culture. After studying the Greek language, “I took Spanish and French in high school, and I enjoyed the way they forced my brain to work,” he said.
In all, Dr. Chesser speaks nine languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Old English, Middle English, Modern English, Spanish, French, and American Sign Language. “What I find fascinating about all this is that language and life evolve very similarly, and for very similar reasons,” Dr. Chesser said.
“As a result [of learning other languages], I have been able to synthesize a better personal understanding, not only of the scriptures, but given my study of language and communication as an entity unto itself, I am better able to express these ideas to other people.”
Dr. Chesser has previously done mission work in Peru to assess humanitarian needs and plans to travel with the Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama in May 2014 on a medical mission trip to Rwanda, Africa.