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Project Cool Breeze inspires Lowcountry student to choose career in public health

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 6:44 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Lowcountry student who volunteered with Project Cool Breeze is now planning to make a difference in the lives of people around the nation when it comes to health care.

Raphaela O’Connor graduated from the University of South Carolina in May from the College of Arts and Sciences. Her family moved to the Lowcountry from California as a teen, and she went to high school at Bishop England where she graduated in 2017. She is currently enrolled at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. It’s a two year program.

“I want to work for a nonprofit or the government, I want to do something that has to do with air quality and pollution” O’Connor said.

Raphaela O'Connor
Raphaela O'Connor(Raphaela O'Connor)

Her career plans are being shaped by her volunteer work with Project Cool Breeze and a personal challenge.

O’Connor has a rare disorder known as Alpha-1 antitryspin deficiency.

“It could lead to serious illnesses like COPD. It’s a rare disorder and most people don’t even know they have it. Both of my parents are carriers so that’s how I got it,” O’Connor said.

Alpha-1 caused her to spend many days in the hospital as a child. So when she learned of her diagnosis in high school, she decided to spend her time helping others to breathe easier.

She met Charleston Rep. Wendell Gilliard at an event in high school, and her mother told her about the work of Project Cool Breeze. The program was started in 1999 by Gilliard, and provides fans and air conditioners to seniors for free. Her mom encouraged her to get involved and she enjoyed it.

“Seeing the amount of people, especially elderly, who didn’t have an A/C or fan, was upsetting,” O’Connor said.

Witnessing firsthand the needs of under-served populations made a lasting impression and has influenced her choice to go into public health.

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