I’m not a superstitious person. But on a Friday the 13th last March, my world changed.
I was in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., making preparations to attend the media day at Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood. It would be the media day that never was.
Dollywood officials made the decision to close that weekend after only one day of being open for the new season. Several of the area’s attractions soon followed, and the once-bustling area became a ghost town.
But was Dolly sitting around complaining about video calls, watching “Tiger King” or trying to order the last roll of toilet paper online like the rest of us?
No! (But maybe she was complaining about the video calls, too).
But ya know what she was doing? She was talking to her friend Dr. Naji Abumrad.
Dolly’s unlikely friendship with a Vanderbilt physician
It’s hard to imagine Dolly leaving behind a greater legacy than what she’s already built, but now she’s saving the world with a vaccine.
It’s 2020, so anything could happen. But how exactly did the songwriter legend become a vaccine sponsor?
It all started, perhaps, when Dolly was involved in a car crash in October of 2013. She suffered minor injuries and reported being sore and bruised, but it was that incident that brought her to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she met Abumrad.
In the podcast Dolly Parton’s America, Dolly discusses how she became friends with the physician and how they apparently had a lot in common. The two kept in touch and remain friends to this day.
According to an interview with The Washington Post, Abumrad says that Dolly became very curious about Vanderbilt’s research regarding the novel virus earlier in the year. Abumrad told her about “exciting developments” by a team at Vanderbilt led by Dr. Mark Denison, a physician and professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology.
Their talks led to Dolly making a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt.
“My longtime friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, who’s been involved in research at Vanderbilt for many years, informed me that they were making some exciting advancements towards research of the coronavirus for a cure,” Dolly said in a statement on social media in April.
“I am making a donation of $1 million to Vanderbilt towards that research and encourage people that can afford it to make donations,” the statement continued.
Abumrad says he never asked Dolly for her support, saying that she’s the “kindest and most philanthropic” person he knows.
Dolly’s donation had ‘critical’ timing for the vaccine
This research eventually received nearly $1 billion in federal funding.
But because Dolly was an early donor, she expedited the science behind the testing, according to Abumrad.
“Without a doubt in my mind, her funding made the research toward the vaccine go 10 times faster than it would be without it,” he said in an interview.
Denison agreed. In an interview with the New York Times, he says that Dolly’s donation went a long way during the “critical” early stages of research.
All of this research funded, in part, the Moderna vaccine. According to preliminary analysis, this vaccine is shown to be nearly 95 percent effective.
Dolly Parton: Songwriter, entrepreneur, vaccine sponsor
So what does our Appalachian queen have to say about being in the headlines so much this week?
Reportedly she found out about the same time that the rest of us did. Dolly found out that her research donation partially funded the vaccine when her name appeared among the sponsors in a preliminary report on the vaccine.
“I’m just happy that anything I do can help somebody else, and when I donated the money to the COVID fund, I just wanted it to do good,” Dolly says in an interview on the Today show. “Evidently, it is. Let’s just hope we find a cure real soon.”
Dolly Parton’s new music, movie and book
Dolly has been doing a lot of interviews lately promoting her new book Songteller: My Life in Lyrics.
She also released her Christmas album recently, which is available on Spotify. Her new movie “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” will premiere next week on Netflix on Nov. 22.
It just goes to show that you can produce albums, write music and save the world all at the same time.
Thank you, Dolly.
And thank you to all the hard-working scientists who made her dollars count.