Cindy Brown: Part-time Secretary Becomes Chief Sonographer

Cindy Brown sits next to an ultrasound machine.
Pictured: Cindy Brown

On May 28, 2023, North Carolina Baptist Hospital marked 100 years of caring, and we have been celebrating all year by sharing stories. Over the decades, there have been countless teammates who have advanced their careers in ways they never imagined. One of those is Cindy Brown, who started work at the hospital in 1982. Her first job was a part-time senior secretary in the sonic lab.

“As the technology of cardiac ultrasound was being introduced at the institution in the 1980s, Cindy learned how to use this new game-changing modality,” said Michael J. Walsh, MD, FASE, director, Pediatric Echocardiography and Fetal Cardiology, and associate professor, Pediatric Cardiology, Brenner Children’s Hospital, now part of Atrium Health Levine Children’s. “She became an expert and transitioned from her administrative role into a clinical one as one of the first people to perform cardiac ultrasounds at the hospital.”

Ultrasound History

Today, the Center for Experiential and Applied Learning’s Program for Medical Ultrasound at Wake Forest University School of Medicine teaches the art and science of ultrasound to physicians, sonographers and other health care professionals. But back in the early 1960s, medical ultrasound was a new development as North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Bowman Gray School of Medicine began work in the field.

The ultrasound program was started in 1963 in the Department of Neurology, chaired by Dr. James F. Toole, to investigate cerebrovascular disease. A full-service clinical laboratory opened two years later. The lab was moved in 1972 to hospital space and expanded to meet growing patient care needs.

In 1975, Dr. William M. McKinney, professor of Neurology, started a postgraduate course in medical sonics that attracted students from around the world. Four years later, it included 55 faculty members and had acquired more equipment than most sonic labs nationally. The sonic lab had five OB scanners, five real-time scanners, two doppler devices, two cardiac scanners and other supplies. About 400 patients were seen monthly.

A Dream Realized

Cindy had always dreamed of one day working with patients in a clinical role. Finally, in March 1987, she became a sonographer trainee in the sonic lab.

Two and a half years later, she passed the registry exam, and in October 1989 became a sonographer. In 2002, Cindy graduated from the Forsyth Tech cardiovascular ultrasound program with an associate degree and was promoted to staff sonographer, providing echocardiograms in Adult Cardiac Ultrasound.

Echocardiograms, also known as echocardiography, “echo” or cardiac ultrasound, is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the heart. During an echo, a wand called a transducer is passed over the patient’s chest and sends out sound waves. A computer measures how the sound waves reflect back (“echo”) and changes the sound waves into pictures.

Cindy's Grandchildren

In 2013, Cindy learned about an open position at Brenner Children’s Hospital and was hired as a chief sonographer in Pediatric Cardiology. Cindy became a beloved teammate of her patients and families and coworkers as she provided echocardiograms for children with heart conditions. Little did she know that one day she would provide echocardiograms for two of her grandchildren.

In March 2015, Cindy’s two-month-old grandson, Tillman, was diagnosed with Noonan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that can cause heart abnormalities. Cindy said she provided all his echocardiograms since he was born. Today, Tillman is doing well and has no issues with his heart.

A second grandchild, Collins, was diagnosed with cleft lip/cleft palate, and holoprosencephaly, a rare brain disorder where her brain did not separate into two lobes. Collins came back for multiple medical issues and passed away in 2022, Cindy said. “Her care team provided comfort for our family at one of the most difficult times we would ever experience.”

While she had always been a compassionate person, Cindy said caring for her grandchildren changed how she worked with patients and families. “I knew first-hand what it was like to be in their shoes,” she said. “I became even more compassionate and patient with parents of the children I cared for, often sharing the story of my grandchildren with these parents.”

Cindy retired in early 2024, nearly 42 years after she started work at North Carolina Baptist Hospital. “I was always growing, and there were always opportunities for me,” she said. “At 51 years old, I was able to learn a completely new technique in Pediatrics. I was so blessed and happy to begin my career at North Carolina Baptist Hospital.”