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Dolly Parton Donations Helped In Developing Coronavirus Vaccine

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

An unlikely friendship between a music legend and a doctor has contributed to the discovery of a coronavirus vaccine. Dolly Parton - yes, that Dolly Parton - first met Vanderbilt surgeon Naji Abumrad in 2013.

NAJI ABUMRAD: She was involved in a car accident, and she came to the emergency room at Vanderbilt. And that's where I met her and took care of her.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The doctor-patient relationship evolved into a personal friendship that lasted beyond the operating room. Earlier this year, Abumrad and Dolly had a conversation about the state of COVID-19 research.

N ABUMRAD: Remember, this is early on. This is way back in February and March, right at the beginning of the pandemic.

KELLY: Well, that conversation led Dolly to make a million-dollar donation to Vanderbilt that directly helped fund three pandemic-related research projects.

N ABUMRAD: One of which was related to the vaccine.

SHAPIRO: That's the Moderna vaccine. Mark Denison is the director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, and he says Dolly's donation help them develop a high-quality test that could be used during the vaccine trials.

MARK DENISON: We had that test well developed. We had it developed because we had those resources.

KELLY: And he says Dolly's financial support is helping develop other drugs that would help inhibit COVID-19.

DENISON: So I think right now the impact of her work is actually ongoing.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Abumrad says this donation is just another example of why there is such an outpouring of goodwill towards the singer.

N ABUMRAD: Having lived in Nashville for a long period of time, whether you like country music or not, your adore her songs.

KELLY: Naji Abumrad's son Jad is the host of the podcast "Dolly Parton's America." He says this donation is a classic Dolly move.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DOLLY PARTON'S AMERICA")

JAD ABUMRAD: And there's something about her gesture here where she's able to wade into this very deeply divided topic of the virus and how we should or should not respond to it. She's able to step right into it, and in a kind of effortless way, make real impact. And it just feels, like, so Dolly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.