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Living the Dream

Emergency medicine doctor and CrossFitter Kelli Young guides her patients in healing beyond just immediate injury and disease

Written by Emily Turner

Photographs by Scott Henderson

Dr. Kelli Young’s bright career in osteopathic medicine began with a colorful case of toy doctor’s tools. “My mom jokes that she bought me the Fisher-Price medical kit when I was just a toddler, and I never looked back,” laughs the 39-year-old. “I was definitely one of those little kids that always dreamed about being a doctor,” she says.

Dr. Young has since traded her plastic tools for stainless steel, but it’s clear that the same youthful spirit motivates her daily. Nearly five years into her position with Roper St. Francis Healthcare, this unflappable emergency medicine doctor is comfortable with her daily routine, however unpredictable. “My schedule is anything but normal,” she admits. Ten-hour late-night and early morning shifts in the emergency room throw Dr. Young head-on into a waiting room full of patients, from victims of car accidents to those with lasting effects from COVID-19.

The southern New Jersey native began her journey into the medical field at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she earned her doctoral degree of osteopathic medicine (DO) in 2009. In the midst of a teaching fellowship in osteopathic manipulative medicine, the fledgling doctor had the opportunity to assume her aunt’s position with a primary care practice at the Jersey Shore. But a summer job as an emergency room tech shifted her sights to a more dynamic discipline. “I fell in love with the emergency room and the organized chaos of the whole thing,” she recalls. 

Her heart also felt a tug during her residency in a Level I trauma center at Albert Einstein Medical Center, where she met and fell for an adventurous and motivated emergency medicine physician named Dr. Stewart Sanford. After dating for four years, the two exchanged vows in 2014. “We have a mixed marriage,” jokes Dr. Young of her “DO” certification and her husband’s “MD.” 

Dr. Young remained at Albert Einstein Medical Center as an attending physician following her residency, but after two years, the couple began longing for a change of scenery and pace. In 2016, they settled in his home state of South Carolina, a move that brought Dr. Young to Charleston and the emergency department at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital. (Dr. Sanford commutes a few times each week to Prisma Health Baptist Hospital in Columbia.)

As an osteopath, Dr. Young is committed to engaging her patients in preventive medicine through lifestyle changes such as balancing diet and improving physical fitness. “I strive to treat the person as a whole, not just the disease,” she explains. “I truly believe this approach can be brought into any aspect of medicine.”

Bodies in motion: Dr. Kelli Young and her husband, Dr. Stewart Sanford, enthusiastically model a healthy and active lifestyle for their son, Patrick. Together, the family grows fresh produce in a backyard garden, cooks well-balanced meals at home and runs errands by bike whenever possible.

A role model to both her patients and her family, Dr. Young practices that same healthy and active lifestyle at home, where she and her husband are now raising a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Patrick. “Most of our time off revolves around keeping ourselves healthy and happy so we can keep doing the work that we do and being there for our son,” she says. The family’s diet includes high levels of protein, fruits and vegetables, with minimal processed foods. Even Patrick, labeled a “pretty adventurous” eater by his mother, has grown accustomed to enjoying the same meals as his parents. 

“Stewart and I are also in some of the best shape we’ve been in since college and are able to keep up with our little man,” says Dr. Young, who was heavily involved in the SheTris triathlon race series prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns. While traveling in California in 2019, she completed CrossFit Physicians level one training and now crushes homemade conditioning workouts in their personal garage gym (a family project completed at the beginning of the pandemic). Their workout plans also include running and biking around the city, often with Patrick in tow. 

With a busy schedule at work and home, it’s a wonder that the energetic wife and mother is able to juggle each of her passions, from gardening to exercising. But she takes care to fit everything in. “I’m really just enjoying the phase of life I’m in right now,” she says. “If you decide what’s important to you, you can make time for it.” It seems every day she spends at work and with her family reinforces the aspirations that first drove that plucky three-year-old to imagine saving lives with her Fisher-Price medical kit. “The everyday grind can sometimes blur the ‘why,’ but the beginning and the end are still the same for me—I love helping people.” 

Name: Dr. Kelli Young
Specialty: Emergency medicine
Outside the office, find her: Running and biking to the grocery store downtown with her two-year-old son, training in her home gym and helping her husband cook fresh family meals

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